Each day in the United States, 428,000 children are in foster care after being removed from their parents’ home because of some kind of abuse or neglect. In Yellowstone County, 944 children were in foster care in November.

In 2016, RiverStone Health set out to support the Yellowstone County foster children and foster parents with a new nurse visiting program called KidsFirst. In partnership with Child and Family Services Division of Yellowstone County (CFSD), KidsFirst began to help deal with the medical needs of children in foster care and support the foster parents who welcomed the children into their homes.

Children who enter foster care have often had inconsistent medical care and may have untreated medical or mental health conditions. Along with unmet medical and mental health needs, children in foster care may have experienced abuse, neglect, exposure to domestic violence or parental substance abuse. All of this toxic stress and trauma in their lives places them at an even higher risk of developing more chronic medical and mental health issues as they grow into adults.

To help with the complex needs of children in foster care, KidsFirst assigns a registered nurse to each child and foster family entering the program. Because of the perceived trustworthiness of nurses, the KidsFirst nurses have been able to build relationships with children in foster care and their foster families. The nurses offer one more place for foster parents to turn when they need help. Medical needs are a top priority, but KidsFirst is about seeing the whole picture to coordinate a comprehensive plan to improve children’s chances of leading healthier lives.

As of December 1, 913 children, ranging in age from infants to teenagers, had been referred to KidsFirst. Of those children, 598 were newly placed into foster care and 314 were already in foster care. Since KidsFirst began, nurses have completed 1,372 home visits with the children and their foster parents. The nurses, along with the help of a medical assistant, have scheduled and coordinated 513 initial medical exams and 362 initial dental exams required by CFSD when a child enters foster care. The KidsFirst team has also scheduled and coordinated numerous ongoing medical appointments for routine and specialty care.

In addition to medical and dental care, nurses have coordinated visits to dozens of community service providers ranging from physical therapists to hearing specialists and Head Start. Navigating the healthcare system can be complex, but the nurses are adept at finding their way around road blocks.

Their know-how and can-do spirit have made it the success that it is. Each day they visit with foster parents and children knowing that no visit is predictable. What they do know, is that they will work to provide each child and foster family the necessary tools and resources, in the hopes that children will thrive and reach their highest potential.

Jennifer Olson, the RN Supervisor for Nurse-Family Partnership & KidsFirst, can be reached at 247.3360, or Jennifer.ols@riverstonehealth.org.