Fostering Health Program: Ensuring Every Foster Child Receives Health Care
For many of the children removed from their homes and entering the foster care system, it’s vital to see a pediatrician as soon as possible.
That sense of urgency for these kids moved the state of Texas to pass a law in 2017 that made it mandatory for all children entering into conservatorship to have a medical exam within three business days after the child was removed from their home.
While the law is an important one to the well-being of the child, the reality of providing timely and thorough medical exams within three days proved to be a difficult task for many parents.
The exam is a medical screening that is intended to provide a baseline of a child’s physical health upon entering foster care. It is also an opportunity for the caregiver to obtain necessary treatment and medications for a child that may not have been obtained at the time of removal, such as an asthma inhaler or eczema cream.
The child abuse experts at Cook Children’s understood the need for foster parents in the community to meet the requirements of the state.
Jamye Coffman, M.D., medical director of the Cook Children’s Center for Prevention and Child Abuse and Neglect and the CARE team, said it was clear there was an issue and Cook Children’s wanted to aide in the solution.
The result? The Cook Children’s Fostering Health clinic that launched in 2018. The clinic provides comprehensive services for all kids living with foster parents from foster infants to young adults, as well as foster children who have become parents.
Dr. Coffman says one of the goals of the clinic is to help foster parents better understand trauma behavior in children and to take more time with the families than just a quick appointment in a primary care office.
“We knew there was going to be a problem getting children into a clinic within three days, because they would be new patients with insurance and billing issues to figure out,” Dr. Coffman explained.
Cory and Maddie Churchman are foster parents who’ve brought four children through the clinic. The couple express their gratitude for the resource they say “has never failed them.”
“We know several families who’ve had to take their child to the emergency room or urgent care, just to have them seen within three days,” Maddie said.
The Churchman family says many offices won’t accept Medicaid insurance, or the office is full and not accepting new patients, so having the foster care clinic at Cook Children’s alleviates that stress.
The clinic allows an hour per visit for every patient they see. Dr. Coffman says this is important because evaluations usually take time because many children enter their new homes and the foster parents know little or nothing about the child.
“Before they even come in our door, we’ve already gathered medical records, immunization records and trauma history, and spoken with Child Protective Services (CPS) to help those parents transition,” Dr. Coffman explains.
The Churchmans say they are prime examples of not having any information on their children when they enter the home. The family adopted the first child they fostered, a one-year-old girl, and said they had doctors ask them for information they weren’t always able to provide.
“There are many doctors who don’t specialize in foster care who ask us as foster parents things we don’t know the answer to. We don’t know if they’re vaccinated or anything,” Maddie said. “We show up at the (Cook Children’s) clinic, and they’ve already looked into everything, which is a huge help.”
The Churchman family says they tell other foster parents to allow people to help you who are in place to do so.
“They saw a need and they are standing in the gap,” Maddie said. “I just want everyone to know they are there, they get it, and they really want to help you.”
The Churchman family is always eager to take their daughter back to see the staff when they have other appointments for their new foster placements.
“We are very grateful that they’re there for us and continue to do their jobs every single day,” Maddie said.