A recently released national study shows that former foster youth appear to have a higher risk of chronic health conditions above what is generally attributed to those in economic poverty. With a raised awareness of these foster care health issues, authors of the report hope policymakers will tailor programs to help these at-risk youth avoid chronic medical problems. For foster parents, acting now will likely help reduce future health problems in their foster children.
Foster care health issues are not a new topic. Coming from higher rates of poverty and experiencing abuse and neglect exacts a toll on the physical and mental well-being of foster children, various studies have shown. However, a new report has revealed that the damage doesn’t stop there.
Those kids who were raised in the foster care system will often carry their health issues with them into adulthood, more so than children who are not in foster care.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, investigated cardiovascular health of three groups of young adults: former foster care adults and non-foster care adults who came from both financially stable and financially unstable backgrounds.
As it turns out, foster youth are at higher risk of chronic health issues than adults from either economic background. The reasons are many but boil down to the negative experiences they’ve lived through.
“Foster youth are often exposed to poverty and many other adverse childhood experiences including abuse, neglect, domestic violence and parental substance use, and many undergo frequent placement and school changes while in foster care. Several theories exist regarding the effects of chronic and early exposures to adversity, all of which suggest that the more stressors to which one is exposed, the higher the likelihood of a chronic physical or mental health condition later in life.”
The report indicates that because of early exposure to negative external factors, a large percentage of youth aging out of foster care live in poverty or experience homelessness and unemployment in young adulthood. This limits their access to needed health care.
Foster Care Health Issues – What Will Help
However, the news isn’t all bad.
Two provisions of the Affordable Care Act which went into effect in 2014 have helped former foster youth. One provision extended Medicaid coverage through age 26 to young adults who were in foster care on their 18th birthday. The other provides coverage to nonelderly people with incomes less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. This is important, according to the study, because increasing Medicaid coverage has been proven to help reduce the health disparity.
Authors of the study hope the results influence policymakers to address the health disparity issue among young adults transitioning out of the foster care system.
“Policies and programs may need to be tailored to the unique life experiences of foster youth to have maximal effect, for example, including individualized strategies to promote the formation of trusting relationships with health care and allied providers.”
Twenty-seven states, including New Jersey, have voted to support Medicaid expansion, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Foster Care Health Issues – Act Now
Also in New Jersey, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) offers a wide array of free home correspondence courses to help licensed resource families address and cope with medical issues that foster youth suffer from. Free courses on asthma, skin disorders and fetal alcohol syndrome, among many others, are readily available for licensed resource families in need. Prioritizing foster youth at an early age will, according to the study, help reduce health disparities. What a foster parent does now will likely decrease the odds of health risks in the future.
For a full look at courses offered to NJ licensed resource parents, click here.