Did you know that national data shows children in foster care, on average, have more medical needs than children in the general population? And that approximately one in four children in foster care has an ongoing medical condition, and about one in ten has two or more? Or that children in foster care are more likely to require repeated medical visits and may be at higher risk for medical trauma for that reason alone?
At some point during your career as a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional, you most likely cared for a child in the child welfare system. Children typically become involved with the child welfare system because they have been abused or neglected, and these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect their responses to medical care. For instance, when medical treatment is invasive, painful, or prolonged, it may be a trigger or reminder of past traumas, such as physical or sexual abuse. Even routine physical exams may be extremely uncomfortable for children who have been sexually abused. Children who have been abused or neglected may not initially trust adults to keep them safe---even health care providers.
Unfortunately, these previous traumatic experiences may increase the risk for medical traumatic stress among children in care. Beyond providing the basics of trauma informed care, following the tips below can help you provide better care to your patients in the child welfare system:
- Try the private provider caseworker first (Find out more about who's who in the child welfare system)
- Ask about the child welfare goals for your patient
- Contact supervisors when necessary
- Learn who can provide consent for treatment
- Involve birth parents when possible
- Encourage cooperation between birth parents and resource parents
- Request team meetings or conference calls
- Ensure continuity of medical care
Combined with trauma informed care, gaining a better understanding of how to work with child welfare professionals can help doctors and nurses successfully treat children who are in the child welfare system.