I was ready to be taught about health care my whole life, but it felt like the system was saying, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Soon after entering foster care at age 16, I ended up in the hospital for a week and had too many follow-up doctor’s appointments. I remember having to wait for approval before doctors could complete medical tests and the doctor’s frustration due to my foster family’s inability to access my medical history.
Challenges like this have continued for me as I exited foster care. I still don’t have my health history or a regular physician. Unfortunately, it seems like many foster youth exit care without family or other supports to help them get the medical or mental health services they need.
I believe we need to make the time to improve the way we help youth understand and navigate the healthcare system. Social workers, foster parents, and advocates need to help foster youth gain proper access to their own medical records, learn how to schedule appointments for themselves and advocate for the health care coverage need.
One thing I personally hate about going to the doctor is the constant questions about my medical history. Many youth in care do not know their own medical history, which can make medical or mental health appointments stressful. This unique challenge is further complicated by our history of court-ordered exams or medical experiences related to our trauma histories. Is it any wonder many of us are uncomfortable in medical or mental health settings and have trouble with record keeping?
Foster youth should have better access to their medical records. I believe we should automatically be given an organized copy of our records when we are adopted or age out of care. This would help us be able to answer questions about our medical history and not have to figure out everything on our own.
In a normal family setting, youth would be able to take over their health care gradually. They would have a supportive adult to guide them and help organize their records. They would also have a supportive family to help insure them and make payments when they experience major health issues. As a foster youth exiting care, we may not even have a ride to a medical appointment, much less someone to help us navigate a complicated insurance or records request form.
Social workers should take the time to partner with foster parents to educate older youth on how to manage their own health care needs and insurance before youth exit care. Youth need opportunities to practice setting up doctor’s appointments, choosing providers, organizing and caring for their medical records, working with the pharmacy, or scheduling mental health appointments. Preparing youth to take care of their own medical needs when they age out, will set youth up for positive future outcomes.
I want to advocate for foster youth and let my voice be heard so the system can be improved. I also invite my fellow, former foster youth to stand together and let our voices be heard by those considering changes to how the foster system handles health care issues so that youth in foster care and those exiting out of care have their physical and mental health care needs met.
Yeshi is a 2018 All-Star, Starting her senior year at St. Martin’s University working on a degree in Social Work. She spent 18 months in foster care in Washington State.