You’d think that when it came to basic medical care, at least, the state would be less neglectful than the unfit parents they take kids from. Yet Barton (1999) found that 34% of children in foster care were not up to date on immunizations. Another report found that 12% of the young foster children studied received no routine health care and, again, 34% received no immunizations. Thirty-two percent of these foster children also had unmet, identifiable health needs. (Ross, 1995)
This is especially concerning because foster kids tend to have unique health needs like no other children. Problems with health commonly emerge after a child goes into foster care because of stresses like family separation, multiple placements, or perceived parental rejection and abandonment; all of which take a sever psychological and physical toll on children’s health. (Fanschel, 1981; Rubin et al., 2005) Research has shown foster kids to have greater rates of illness than poverty stricken children in inner cities and even homeless children. (Leslie et al., 2003b) Past neglect or exposure to elicit substances is a big factor in the decreased health status that many children in foster care have, and when you combine this with the severe toll removal brings, their situation can become quite dire. Yet once again, CPS is acting just as neglectfully as the parents they remove children from.
Much of this again falls to the tangled mess of bureaucracy that foster care is surrounded in. Nurses describe numerous problems in treating foster care children: no medical authorization, lack of paperwork, no child files or past medical records, having to report to different people with no medical who do not understand the problem, confusion over medical coverage, and so on. (Kantor & Blease, 2006) Children with certain conditions often aren’t covered under Medicaid programs, and there is often further uncertainty around who has proper authorization for treatment. As the aforementioned researchers write, “there appears to be a lot of variability and uncertainty around interpretation of HIPAA regulations on issues of medical authorizations, and the documentation that providers demand from DCYF (e.g., court orders). These can be grave matters, particularly when children are in urgent need of care, and they call for a clear and uniform interpretation of the law that does not impede children’s timely access to care.” (p. 21) The fact that foster care kids often switch homes at a frequency of up to every six months or even more only complicates everything further. Every switch installs new providers, new health workers, and often new case managers.
Another area of concern is the overuse of medication among foster children. It’s not uncommon for young children to be placed on multiple medications to deal with “problems” that in all likelihood are results of either the foster care placement itself or past home environments. Medications are thus used as a crutch to cover over behavioral problems that have a psychological, not medical, origin. These drug regimens can sometimes drug a child into a virtual zombie-like state, and are often administered hastily, with little review as to the child’s needs. One review of the Texas Child Welfare system found many system set up around confrontation and removal will always exact severe collateral damage that far outweighs any benefits.
Other anecdotal evidence doesn’t exactly quell concerns in this regard. In recent years it was revealed that child protective services in numerous states had given the go-ahead for drug companies to use orphans and foster care children as guinea pigs in experimental drug regimens. (GCF, 2009) The story which gained headlines was Glaxo Smith Kline’s use of experimental aids drugs, yet further digging shows that numerous drug trials are being conducted on foster children throughout this country and others. The drug regimens were invasive, (often requiring surgical procedures), controversial (they had been abandoned in adult trials because of dangerous side effects), and a study later revealed that children receiving the treatments had a higher mortality rate, which is a polite way of saying this experimentation killed several of the kids involved. Given the circumstances, this isn’t all that surprising. The reason drug companies prefer running these tests on populations of foster care kids is that they have no pesky parents to sign consent forms or look out for their interests. The state, on the other hand, isn’t nearly so protective.