Handing Over the Baton: Partnering to Help Older Youth Develop Positive Healthcare Practices

Caring for older foster youth places a significant responsibility on foster parents to advocate for quality physical and mental healthcare. This task is understandably daunting. In addition to being fierce advocates, foster parents must also encourage older foster youth to actively manage their healthcare, recognizing its crucial role in their future well-being. Understanding the unique challenges faced by foster youth is fundamental, as they may require additional support to navigate a complex healthcare system. Due to their trauma history, they face a higher risk of chronic health conditions and mental health issues, often with limited access to quality healthcare in adulthood. Addressing these unique needs is essential for ensuring their future well-being.

Frequently, older youth may be hesitant to involve their caregivers in their healthcare plans. As they age, they rightfully gain the autonomy to make health decisions independent of a caregiver’s input. As caregivers for some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals, there are actions you can take to help support and be involved in your foster child’s healthcare journey:

1. Establish a Foundation of Trust: As with most things, building trust is central for the youth to feel comfortable in involving you in their healthcare needs. Most of the time, this can be accomplished through the demonstration of empathy, active listening, and respecting their need for autonomy. It will take time and patience.

2. Engage in Open Communication: Discuss healthcare (physical & emotional) while making it clear you are genuinely interested in their physical and emotional care. Be open and non-judgmental, allowing them to express their concerns, preferences, and fears.

3. Educate Yourself: Invest time in understanding the youth’s medical conditions, medications, and any specific healthcare needs they may have. This knowledge not only equips caregivers to better support them but also demonstrates a commitment to their overall well-being.

4. Involve the Youth in Decision-Making: In healthcare decisions, include the youth in discussions and empower them to make choices whenever possible. This inclusivity helps them feel valued, respected, and fosters a willingness to include caregivers in healthcare appointments and decisions.

5. Attend Healthcare Appointments Together: When appropriate, attend healthcare appointments with the youth to demonstrate commitment to their health and to gain a better understanding of their medical needs. Be supportive, encourage questions, and assist in preparing for appointments, fostering self-advocacy skills. If they will allow you to, help them come up with questions prior to their appointment and make notes together. This helps build their self-advocacy skills.

6. Maintain Confidentiality: Respecting the youth’s right to privacy is paramount. Ensure you have their permission to access and share their medical information. By honoring confidentiality, you further strengthen their trust in you.

7. Collaborate with Healthcare Professionals: Establish a collaborative relationship with the youth’s healthcare providers. Communicate openly with medical professionals and seek their guidance and advice. This will help facilitate seamless care and coordination.

8. Normalize Healthcare Experiences: Foster a positive outlook on healthcare by normalizing the experience. Emphasize the importance of overall well-being, encourage self-care practices, and promote healthy habits to help youth incorporate good healthcare practices into their daily routine.

Building a strong connection with a youth in foster care requires time and patience. By adopting these tips, caregivers can create an environment that nurtures trust, openness, and shared decision-making, ultimately empowering the young person to take control of their healthcare while including caregivers as supportive partners along the way.