Few things give parents more stress than a sick child. I’m not talking about the “common cold” type of sick. Rather, I’m talking about the hospital-stay-after-hospital-stay, specialist-after-specialist type of sick. The kind of sick that foster care labels “medically fragile.”
Every child who enters foster care has, on some level, special needs as a result of trauma. However, some children require an extra layer of care due to medical issues like cancer or epilepsy. Other kids require extra care due to the injuries they have from physical or sexual abuse.
Most states do not allow children with this level of care into a “typical” foster home. They often require extra training and requirements for a foster home to become “medically complex” or something of a similar name.
I did not set out to be in a medically complex foster home. Child Protective Services had previously asked me to become one, and I said I was not interested. That was until one day when a six-month-old little girl looked at me and smiled.
Becoming a Medical Foster Parent
I said “yes” to a baby girl in September of 2018. It soon became clear that this baby in foster care had high medical needs that I was not equipped to handle—or, at least, I thought I was not equipped to handle them. Child Protective Services labeled her as medically complex.
I was told that in order to keep her, I would have to go through several hours of training annually. “I can get you an easier kid,” the social worker said over the phone.
Before I even had a chance to think, I heard my voice say back, “No, I want her.”
I did the training. I went through several hospital stays and probably a hundred or so doctor appointments. There were a lot of tears. I often worried about her future or if she would even have a future.
A little over two years later, I adopted her. With everything we have been through together, that smile every morning when I go into her room makes everything worth it.
The Daily Life of Medical Foster Care
If you are interested in stepping into the lives of children in foster care who have higher medical needs, there are a few things you should start to like.
First, start liking doctor’s offices—you will be there a lot. Get to know the staff—they will become your friends. And start liking those hospital couches that turn into couch beds. (Does anyone really like those?)
Then, start liking therapy appointments. I have learned a lot from Occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other therapists about child development and age-appropriate skills. It is fascinating. Child therapists are also some of the kindest, loving, and most interesting people.
Next, start liking files and calendars. Get a file box and organize all the papers. Get a pretty calendar or an app that you love and start practicing organization.
Finally, but most importantly, start to pray. Beyond all the appointments, pray should occur most often. Prayer is important for everyone involved in the life of a child in foster care with medical needs.
Every Child is Made in God’s Image
No matter the medical issues, diagnoses, diseases, or any challenge a child may face, he or she is made in God’s image. I will say it again: every single child bears the image of God. When that becomes your focus as a parent, every challenge is worth it.
Every single child bears the image of God. When that becomes your focus as a parent, every challenge is worth it.Natalie Whitcomb
Really, being a medically complex foster parent is not that much different from typical parenting. Every child needs care. Every child needs love. And every child needs to know the gospel. Yes, I have some added doctor appointments and trips to the pharmacy, but caring for children and remembering they are made in God’s image will take you a long way in parenting any child.
How You Can Help
Not everyone is called to become a parent of a child in foster care with medical issues. Maybe you are included in that “not everyone” I just described—that’s ok! There is still so much you can do.
As a medically complex foster parent, it was very hard for me to get childcare. For the first two years of my daughter’s life, I rarely left her with a babysitter because not many were qualified to watch her.
Every state is different, but in my state, a babysitter for a child with medical complexities had to be CPR and first aid certified, be 18+ years old, and be willing to be trained on how to care for that child’s specific needs. Could you be that person for a foster family? I guarantee it would be a huge blessing.
I missed almost every church service those first two years until a dear friend offered to watch my daughter so I could attend some services. It may seem small, but it was exactly what I needed.
Another way to help is to bring meals on days with doctor’s appointments, during hospital stays, or on therapy days. Having one less thing to organize after being at the doctor’s office all day was such a blessing for me as a medical foster care parent.
Finally, be willing to listen without offering suggestions on how to fix it. I knew my daughter’s diagnoses more than anyone else. On many nights, I stayed up till 2:00 a.m. doing research. I did not need another opinion but a sympathetic and loving listener.
My journey in the world of medical foster care has felt not so much a journey as it has been a shove off a high dive into a deep pool.
But it reminds me of the gospel: not so much a nice slow journey but a shove into the deep love of Christ.
I have cared for a child with high medical needs because Christ has cared for me no matter my needs. He has never left my side, which has given me the example I needed so that I can stay by my daughter’s side.
Jesus spent most of his time with people society thought were not worth their time or love. Jesus was questioned a lot, “Why don’t you spend time with easier people?”
So when I was asked if I wanted an easier kid, I was able to say, “No, I want her.” Because many years ago, Jesus looked at me and said, “No, I want her.”
© 2022, Natalie Whitcomb. All rights reserved. Used with permission.