New Program Aims to Streamline Health Care for Foster Kids, Treat Trauma

Feb 5, 2014

On Wednesday, state officials will be in Milwaukee to unveil a new 'medical home' program for children in foster care.

Dr. Lisa Zetley (left) of Children's Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin treats many children in the foster care system in Milwaukee County.

The program means, no matter where kids are placed, they’ll keep the same doctor and other health care providers. The program also promises more mental health services for children who’ve experienced trauma.

Kitty Rhoades is secretary of the state Department of Health Services. She lists some shortcomings with the way foster children are treated now.

“In the current system, the foster children, when they leave, in an out-of-home placement, they’re in a different community. And so the foster care parents have to find access to a doctor, behavioral consultations, therapies, a dentist who will take these kids. Every time the child moves, it’s likely he loses contact with those providers and he has to start all over again,” Rhoades says.

“We need to do better by these kids. We need to ensure they have at least stability in the people who are supplying their behavioral, the mental health and the medical services. So we wanted to have what we call a medical home, which is not a brick and mortar facility. It’s a method of delivering coordinated care and continuity of care to targeted individual populations. And so Children’s Hospital is serving as the coordinated care deliverer, or our medical home, and they will be responsible for ensuring that every one of the kids enrolled in this program has access to all of the levels of care that are provided in the program,” Rhoades says.

“(Foster children) are complicated, they are challenging. If life were easy, they probably wouldn’t be in a foster care placement. So the focus of this program is really about improving the outcomes for these kids, making sure that within two days of enrollment they have a full assessment. That they’re being treated by people who understand what we call ‘trauma-informed care.’ That’s the difference between saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ as opposed to, ‘What happened to you?’ and understanding then how to deal with the trauma that many of these kids have been through,” Rhoades says.

There are roughly 6,000 children in foster care in Wisconsin - 50 percent are in the southeast.  That’s why the new medical home program, in its first phase, will serve Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties.