By Jennifer Stevens (Director of Child and Family, Bay/Mid)
If you are anything like me, you only think about going to the doctor if something is wrong. However, there are many reasons why having check-ups (or “well-child exams,” in the case of our children) is so important.
Children in foster care most often come to your home with little or no medical history for them or their families. We hope that all of the information on the health needs of the child will be provided prior to placement, however, there have been plenty of circumstances where we knew of some medical needs of even the most medically fragile children and still learned of additional needs after the children were placed in their foster homes. The reality is that some foster children have not been properly monitored by medical professionals in the past, or they have been treated for a specific, recent condition, but that condition hadn’t stabilized enough for other issues to be revealed. Children aren’t always able to clearly share what is happening in their bodies, and we cannot always see what is going on inside their bodies. For example, a very active child may not show that they are feeling ill, and a sick child may have symptoms that are mild or not visible at all and so are overlooked.
Because we don’t know all the health conditions of children placed in care, the children need to be seen by a licensed medical professional within 30 days of entering care. This initial medical visit is a great opportunity to learn important information about the child recently placed in your home, as well as talk to a professional about how best to meet their specific needs. The initial visit can also establish a relationship between the medical provider and your foster child in case they require medical care later.
It is also imperative to maintain well-child exams because it is important to track your child’s physical well-being, including height and weight. Accurate and ongoing measurements can help determine if they are developing appropriately for their age. During a well-child exam, a doctor also reviews other milestone developments, such as motor skills. If the child in your care is falling behind in his/her development, the doctor can determine if the delay is due to a genetic issue or medical need and/or the doctor can assist you in helping the child make strides in his/her development. The doctor can then let us know if we need to change their eating habits or lifestyle to prevent future medical issues. It may be important to treat or monitor any conditions discovered and the medical professional is just the person to help us with that.
Don’t forget about dental exams, too! Good dental health is just as important as good medical health. Did you know that over 90 percent of diseases that affect your entire body also affect your mouth? Routine dental exams can help you detect other medical conditions early. They also help to prevent oral pain and discomfort associated with gum disease and other dental issues. That is why we ask that children age 3 and older receive dental exams within 90 days of placement with you and at least annually thereafter.
The biggest struggle we hear from families about getting medical and dental exams done timely is the lack of available appointments. We can help with this or other issues that may prevent timely exams. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your caseworker with any issues you are experiencing with scheduling or maintaining appointments.
Having a healthy child in the home can result in a more stable, structured environment with less stress on you and the children in your care. Even if our children do have medical needs, knowing what they are, how to manage them, and having the medical support you need helps us create safe, secure environments for them.