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Fri Apr 22, 2022, 02:42 PM

How Families Are Advocating For Children With Disabilities In Foster Care

by Claudia Boyd-Barrett, California Health Report | April 21, 2022

Theo Haskew has fetal alcohol syndrome, intellectual disability and autism. His adoptive mother Jennifer Haskew says that parents fostering and adopting children with disabilities should receive more information about how to care for and advocate for them. (Kristi Salmeron Meneses)

FRESNO, Calif. — Sheri Louie fell in love with Kristina the moment she saw her at the group home for medically fragile children in Fresno. A licensed vocational nurse, Louie had spent years working with children like Kristina who need special medical equipment to stay alive. But something about the fragile baby with expressive eyes felt unique.

“I had a connection with her. It was more like how I felt with my daughter,” said Louie, whose biological daughter, Cynthia, is one year older than Kristina. “I loved all the kids there, but I loved Kristina different.”

Kristina has cerebral palsy, autism and Moebius syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis. She’s one of thousands of children with physical and developmental disabilities who enter California’s foster care system each year. These children often require specialized care, therapy and education services. Because of their disabilities, they can be harder to place with a foster or adoptive family — now called a “resource family” by the state — than children without disabilities.

Yet, like Louie and her husband, Kenny, many families do foster and ultimately adopt children with special health care needs. That’s despite challenges these families often encounter, such as receiving insufficient medical supplies to care for the children and incomplete information from child welfare agencies about the children’s health histories. Foster families and their advocates are working to mend the gaps in the system that can cause undue stress on these children with disabilities, who, in most cases, have already been through trying times before coming into foster care. Because the children are considered wards of the state, advocates say that California should do more to protect them and ensure their health conditions are well managed. This is also a racial justice issue, because Black and Native American children are disproportionately enrolled in foster care, due to societal inequities.

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