Postcards from the Edge: Foster Care and Health Issues

May 22, 2014, 1:29 PM

“I don’t miss my family. I miss the family I never had.” That’s the text of a postcard written by a former foster child—one of hundreds of postcards that are a project of the Foster Care Alumni of America to help create a better understanding about life in foster care. May is National Foster Care Month—an annual effort to raise attention about the 400,000 children in foster care.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), most of those 400,000 children will be reunited with their families or find a permanent home with relatives, guardianship, or adoption. But each year 24,000 youth “age out” of foster care without a permanent legal family and many of them have shared their lives in a postcard.

New initiatives on foster care announced by the HHS Children's Bureau in 2014 include:

  • Awards for agencies to test new strategies for recruiting resource families for children in foster care.
  • Grants to states, localities and tribes to build the capacity of child welfare systems to prevent long-term homelessness among youth and young adults who have been involved with child welfare.
  • Funding for states, localities and universities to develop initiatives that will improve the social and emotional well-being of children who are involved with child welfare and have mental and behavioral health needs.
  • The National Foster Care Month initiative. This year’s theme is “Building Blocks Toward Permanent Families” in order to promote awareness of children in foster care.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines children in foster care as children with special health care needs because of the very high prevalence of physical, mental, developmental, educational, dental and family relationship problems. Children in foster care have many of the same health problems as other children—they just seem to have more of them more often, according to the AAP.

Among the reasons why medical conditions are so prevalent in foster children:

  • Health conditions might be the direct result of trauma or medical neglect.
  • Birth parents may seek foster care because they are unable to care for the child’s health problems.
  • Emotional stressors may precipitate flares in underlying conditions, such as asthma.

According to the AAP, treating and improving these conditions also improves the chances for reunification with parents or adoption, and is therefore a priority for foster children.

>>Bonus LinksView a slideshow and gallery of dozens of post cards by former and current foster children.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.