Health and foster care

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Ensuring that the health and wellbeing needs of fostered children are met can be a complex matter. Research consistently shows that the health of many children and young people in foster care is poorer than that of their peers. The circumstances that have resulted in them being in care may have left them with particular health needs. Others may have specific medical conditions or disabilities whilst others may need support with their mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Also, some children may have moved frequently meaning that the details of their medical history are difficult to find.

When a child is in care, health related responsibilities are not only shared between their birth families and foster carers but also with social workers, specialist nurses, paediatricians, youth services and teachers  who have responsibility as the ‘corporate parent’ .

With the right training and support, foster carers can make a real difference to the lives of children and young people, not only by helping to care for the health of children but also by acting as role models in the way they look after their own health and emotional wellbeing.

Principles of promoting health and wellbeing

  • It is important that foster carers understand their responsibilities around health care, medical treatment and consent so that they can support a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Fostered children have a right to good health; all the professionals working with them have a responsibility to promote and support this while recognising that it is the foster carer who can make the biggest impact on the child’s experiences and environment.
  • A holistic approach to health promotes children’s wellbeing and provides them with the support they need to make informed decisions about their own health.
  • Children and young people will live in a healthy care environment, will experience a stable secure relationship, live in a positive health promoting environment, have opportunities for self development, and receive effective healthcare, treatment and support.

Key points to consider

  • Foster carers have a crucial role to play in identifying and responding to unmet health needs among children in their care.
  • In order to do this fostering services should ensure that foster carers have an all around knowledge of childhood development and a basic knowledge of childhood health screening and immunisation programmes. .
  • Fostering services should provide fFoster carers with the training and knowledge and skills to enable them to respond to potential health issues. These issues may include:
    • Physical: some children have unmet health needs surrounding their development, dental care, vision, immunisations, healthy eating and physical activity levels.
    • Mental health: all fostered children have been separated from their birth family and may also have suffered neglect, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, bereavement or poverty.
    • Sexual: all young people need to develop and understand a holistic approach to their sexual health, that is the emotional elements of sexual relationships as well as the risks of  unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
In addition to the above fostering services should also provide opportunities for their foster carers to develop the relevant to have knowledge and skills in understanding and caring for children and  young people. This could include that is knowledge about adolescence, child development, emotional health and well being, substance use and abuse including the implications of the use of illegal drugs, alcohol,  tobacco and e- cigarettes. Read more about smoking and foster care.

Consent for treatment

Foster carers do not have parental responsibility but should have delegated authority/decision-making power for consent for most treatments. They should be clear from the outset about their responsibilities if children require emergency medical treatment and if they require planned treatment.

Each situation is different but as a rule foster carers should be able to sign consents for routine medicals, eye and sight tests and routine dental examinations. Foster carers should be given delegated authority wherever possible to consent to immunisations and the placement plan should clarify who can give consent in a medical emergency.

Across the UK, young people aged 16 and over can give their own consent to surgical, mental or dental examination or treatment.

You can purchase The Fostering Network’s medical treatment card pack which allows fostering services and parents to pass on the right to sign for medical treatment onto carers here. (Currently out of stock)


More information

Read our advice for foster carers about looking after the health and wellbeing of a fostered child

Read more about health and foster care in England

Read more about smoking and foster care