The first step for children into the Virginia Beach foster care system will soon be at hospitals.
With help from the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, the city’s Human Services Department will soon require all case workers and foster parents to take children in for a medical evaluation within 24 hours of becoming their legal guardian. The checkup will be followed by comprehensive exams and tests within their first 30 days as foster children.
The city hopes the move will increase the quality and availability of care and get quicker treatment to issues that are not obvious, said Dr. Rudolph Freeman, the Human Services Department’s medical director.
Last fiscal year, 120 children entered foster care in Virginia Beach, while 88 left because they turned 18, were adopted or moved to be with relatives. Between July 1 and Oct. 26, 41 children were fostered in the Beach, adding to a tally that is now at 234.
“The numbers are staggering,” Freeman said.
He added that most of the children are mentally or physically vulnerable for one reason or another.
Partner hospital Medical Director Dr. Doug Mitchell told the told the City Council that those children are receiving good care.
“But we can do a whole lot better than good,” he said.
Foster parents normally wait weeks after bringing a child home to take them in for a checkup and often do so without any idea of the child’s medical history, Mitchell said. That sometimes makes providing comprehensive care difficult, he said.
“That’s nobody’s fault,” he said. “That’s the system. That’s the way it’s been.”
He said the new protocol calls for children to receive standardized care that ranges from dental and mental to educational, quickly after being fostered.
“The vast majority of them have problems that need to be identified,” whether it’s a missed vaccine or an undiagnosed disease, Mitchell said.
The new protocols will make sure those issues are not only spotted but also documented in a way that gets back to foster parents and the child’s caseworker, ensuring caretakers and doctors are up-to-date on a child’s medical needs.
Freeman said the program will surpass benchmarks set earlier this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Medicaid will pay for most medical expenses accrued for foster children under the changes, but in cases that a medication or service is not covered, the city will foot the bill.
The city will also absorb costs for caring for foster children who do not qualify for Medicaid. They would include undocumented citizens, according to a letter Deputy City Manager Cindy Curtis sent to Councilman John Moss in response to questions from him. Moss was not at the presentation Tuesday.
The changes were received warmly by other councilmembers. The presentation was met warmly by the council. Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson called it “fantastic.”
“These children have been through a lot and they deserve to have a level playing field with the other kids,” she said.