23, No. 1
Preparing Transitioning Youth to Look After Their Own Medical Needs
In our efforts to support youth in foster care in their transition to independent adulthood, their health and health care deserve special attention. Experience and research tell us that many of these youth have a hard time accessing and managing their medical care (Courtney, et al., 2001, 2016a; Reilly, 2003; Rosenbach, 2001).
This is a problem, because foster youth are three to seven times more likely than their peers to have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or asthma (Jaudes, 2012). In fact, in 2014, nearly 72% of youth in foster care age 18-21 had at least one chronic condition (NC Pediatric Society, 2016). Transitioning youth need our support to meet their medical needs.
How You Can Help
Highlight health care's importance. Youth this age tend to feel invincible, so they may not see the need to focus on their health (Jaudes, 2012). Outline the importance of preventive medical care, regular check-ups, dental and vision care, healthy eating, and exercise.
Emphasize mental health, too. Youth in foster care have higher levels of emotional distress that can have a significant impact on their mental and physical health (Felitti et al., 1998; Jaudes, 2012). Unfortunately, many youth do not continue mental health services once they exit care. Underscore the importance of continuing counseling and medication management (Courtney, et al., 2001; Reilly, 2003).
Make sure they know their rights. Youth aging out of care can qualify for Child and Family Medicaid until age 26, regardless of their income. This gives them higher levels of coverage than others their age typically have. Youth adopted before age 18 may qualify for Health Choice benefits, or they can be on their parents' medical coverage until age 26.
Teach them about the difference between pediatric and adult care. For example, adults must decide who will be on their medical team (e.g., parents/caregivers) and they must advocate for themselves with health professionals. In addition, adults' appointments with physicians are often shorter. Young adults with chronic conditions (e.g., sickle cell anemia) may have to manage relationships and appointments with both specialists and their primary care doctor.
Help them navigate logistics. The application and enrollment process for Medicaid is complicated and must begin before youth leave care. Connect youth with an eligibility worker and inform the worker of the youth's foster care status, so they get the right type of coverage. Help youth complete the application and obtain the necessary documentation.
Youth also need to know when their pediatrician will stop treating them, so they can find an adult provider well in advance. Link youth to a CCNC care coordinator so they will have more support overcoming barriers to care (NC Pediatric Society, 2016; Jaudes, 2012; Rosenbach, 2001).
Start preparing youth for the transition at age 14 or 15. Give youth increasing levels of responsibility for scheduling appointments, obtaining prescription refills, researching their conditions/medications, etc.
Share information with youth about their family's medical history. Knowing their family medical history and being able to accurately report this to medical providers is a key part of preventive care.