Because foster children experience higher instances of neglect, abuse and trauma than their peers, they are more likely to face challenges to their health, such as developmental delays, physical disabilities and mental health problems.

Data Highlights

Children in the child welfare system often experience multiple traumatic events, such as abuse or neglect by caregivers, separation from family and placement instability. Exposure to trauma has significant short- and long-term negative health effects. For example, trauma early in life is directly correlated with higher risks of heart disease, obesity, alcoholism and drug use.

Approximately 4,500 California foster youth age out of the child welfare system every year. Youth who age out of foster care are at high risk for health-related issues, such as homelessness and depression, and approximately 25% of former foster youth experience post-traumatic stress. Furthermore, these youth are much less likely to have health insurance coverage or receive other needed services.

58% of foster children first enter the system when they are birth-to-5-years-old, and approximately half of young children in foster care have developmental delays. It is critical that these young children receive the services and supports they need, such as developmental screenings and early intervention programs, so they can enter school healthy and ready to learn. An example of a successful intervention is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, an evidence-based intervention that helps children overcome traumatic events and their effects.

Pro-Kid Policy Agenda

California should ensure that foster youth are provided with the complete range of health services they need, including medical, dental and mental health services. It is particularly critical that the state provide adequate, continuous health coverage for foster youth and provide outreach to former foster youth so they are aware of their coverage options.

Figure: Foster youth access to mental health services
(click to enlarge image)

Momentum

Effective January 2014, federal health care reform significantly expands health insurance coverage for youth who are aging out of the child welfare system. Former foster youth are now eligible for Medi-Cal coverage until age 26. Furthermore, California budgeted additional dollars in bridge funding to ensure that former foster youth who turned 21 between July 1 and December 31, 2013 were not dropped from Medi-Cal, but continued to receive health insurance coverage.

In 2011, Katie A. v. Bonta, a class-action law suit filed on behalf of California foster youth was settled and, as a result, California must now ensure foster youth are receiving quality mental health services. Specifically, foster youth will be provided with in-home and community-based services, assessments and treatments through Medi-Cal.