Moving America Forward

This ‘Backpack’ Holds the Key to a Brighter Future for Foster Kids

July 1, 2014
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This ‘Backpack’ Holds the Key to a Brighter Future for Foster Kids
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The “electronic backpack” makes life easier for kids and professionals by integrating all records into one place.

The life of a foster kid is anything from easy. Between the constant moving and inconsistency in familial relationships, growing up can be difficult. Often overlooked in all this bustle, though, is an important lifeline: their records, from medical to educational. That’s why states and counties across the country are equipping foster kids with a new accessory: an “electronic backpack.”

It’s not an actual bag, rather a digital repository where foster children’s records can be stored in one central location, accessible to all involved in the foster care system. Students’ health records will be the first to be included, and education and juvenile probation records will be gradually phased in, with 2015 as a target completion date. Just this month, Ventura, Calif. became the newest area to announce the adoption of this program. Ventura is well aware of the difficulties of foster children—the city has about 1,000 in the area.

This system is an important tool when considering all of the challenges that accompany foster children. Trends show that foster children are more susceptible to sickness such as asthma, tooth decay and malnutrition, as well drug use and mental disorders. And, since foster children move frequently, their medical records are sometimes lost, leaving gaps in their history that result in over-immunization, over-prescription of medication and misdiagnosis, according to national child advocacy group, First Focus.

All of this can be reversed, though, with the electronic backpack. With children’s records all stored in one location, doctors and other professionals will be able to easily access the information that’s pertinent to foster kids’ success. Not only will the backup benefit children health wise, but it’ll help them in the transition to adulthood: Centralized, complete records can assist adult foster children as they look for new jobs.

San Diego County was the first place to offer this kind of helping hand to foster children in 2006, when the Office of Education combined education, health and juvenile records, creating the first electronic backpack. The records are all stored at the Office of Education and the system is updated every week with new data on the kids from the schools, juvenile court, probation office and welfare agencies. Similar programs have already been introduced in Texas and Florida, under the encouragement of Congress in 2008. As a result, Texas has seen a reduction in the amount of psychiatric admissions and distribution of psychiatric medication and length of stays in psychiatric facilities among foster children. But while San Diego courts have the discretion to decide who is and isn’t allowed to view the records, Ventura is taking the backpack step further by making the documents accessible to anyone who works with kids within the foster care system.

Given all the changes that foster kids often juggle, this “electronic backpack” is sure to help them—and the people who work them—stay organized for a successful future.

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