Foster Youth Health
Foster youth have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma, which can cause serious, ongoing physical and mental health difficulties. Foster youth are up to three times more likely than their peers to experience developmental challenges, such as physical disability, difficulty remembering or difficulty with personal care, and up to six times more likely to struggle with serious mental or behavioral health issues. More than 40 percent of 17-year-old California foster youth report feeling so low that they’ve thought about suicide.
In spite of their unique health needs, foster youth often face barriers to accessing health care services. Currently, only 65 percent of California foster youth with serious emotional challenges receive the mental health services they need. When they do receive services, they are frequently drug-based; roughly one in six foster youth are treated with psychotropic drugs. While medication can be an effective component of a treatment plan, it should not be used in lieu of therapeutic mental health services.
Trauma’s harmful effects on health and well-being continue into adulthood. Fortunately, as of 2014, youth exiting foster care at 18 or older qualify for free health care until age 26.
Pro-Kid® Policy Agenda
California should ensure that foster youth are provided with comprehensive health care, including the mental and behavioral health services they need to heal from trauma. The state should also make sure foster youth transitioning to adulthood are receiving the continuous health coverage until age 26 that they’re entitled to by law.
More former foster youth have access to health care thanks to state efforts, but more work is needed to ensure youth receive timely, coordinated services while in foster care. A new global data sharing agreement between the California Department of Social Services and the Department of Health Care Services allows the agencies to exchange information to identify trends and better meet foster youth’s unique health needs. In 2015, legislation was signed that will provide more oversight to ensure medications are prescribed appropriately and in conjunction with other mental health supports.