What is foster care?
Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for kids who need a safe place to stay while their parents cannot take care of them. Children are placed with licensed foster families or with approved relatives while social workers, judges and other providers work with their families toward safe reunification. There are many factors that can stress a family, forcing the state to intervene to protect children from abusive and neglectful situations. These can include incarceration, extreme poverty, substance abuse and mental illness.
What happens once children are in foster care?
A judge decides whether a child should be removed from their parents custody and placed into foster care. Federal law requires that once that happens, all children in foster care must have a clearly written plan to work towards permanency, i.e. a plan for the child to safely leave foster care. The initial goal for almost all children who enter the system is to be safely reunified with their biological family. A plan is made, and the court approves it. This permanency plan involves many services aimed at reunifying the family, and can include counseling, treatment, parent education, and attendance at medical appointments. Virtually all court-ordered plans include visitation at regularly scheduled intervals. The purpose of visitation is to maintain the bond between parent and child while the parent completes all the other services, with the end goal being reunification of the family.
There are approximately 10,000 kids in foster care in Washington State on any given day. As many as 5 children a week who come into foster care in Region One are already identified as medically complex. This number can dramatically increase as children who were previously unidentified as having any medical needs are placed into foster care and begin receiving consistent medical attention. Many of these children are then discovered to have higher medical needs than were originally recognized and thus become categorized as medically complex at that time.
Children who are labeled as medically fragile or complex, usually fall into one of two categories. A few children, who are the most fragile, are often prohibited by their physician from attending visitation, due to a low number of facilities with medically trained personnel. The permanency plan is then amended in court to reflect the recommendation. This situation robs biological parents and children of precious bonding time. The larger number of kids are still participating in visitation, as outlined in their court ordered plan. However, they are at centers where the personnel are not medically trained, nor are the facilities equipped to handle children with high medical needs. This places these children at risk for further health complications, and does not provide an environment where biological parents can learn how to care for their medically complex child safely.