First Lady Tonette Walker

New program provides children in foster homes access to medical care

Crocker Stephenson of the Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

To appreciate the importance of a new medical program for children in foster care that was announced Wednesday at the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, consider what happened to Bregetta Wilson.

Wilson was 13 when she was placed in foster care. She would remain in foster care until she turned 18 and aged out of the system.

During those five years, Wilson said, she never got a physical and never saw a dentist. She had to navigate, alone, her physical changes and the emotional upheaval of having been removed from her family.

"I had no one to talk to," Wilson said.

"Many children in foster care often lack basic health care or have experienced some level of trauma," said Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker, who was joined for the program's official rollout by Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson and Department of Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades.

"This program allows them to get the care they need," Walker said.

Called Care4Kids, the program creates a medical home for children in foster and other types of out-of-home care.

Not a brick-and-mortar home, but rather a primary care provider and a team of specialists charged with providing each child with comprehensive and coordinated services, including physical, mental and oral health care.

The program requires that the needs of the individual child be evaluated within 48 hours of entering out-of-home care, followed by a comprehensive health assessment within 30 days of enrollment.

"I have been waiting for this day since 1965," Anderson said, referring to the year she came to Milwaukee as a social worker.

"Many children who enter foster care have experienced traumatic events in their young lives," she said.

"By immediately assessing their needs with a trauma-informed approach, we have another tool to help break the cycle of harm caused by these adverse experiences."

The Care4Kids program is being implemented in six southeast Wisconsin counties: Milwaukee, Kenosha, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha.

The program is expected to serve approximately 2,600 children, which is about half of the roughly 5,500 children in out-of-home care statewide.