Health information needs for initial assessments of children-in-care




Thompson, Cori Denise

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Children and youth in state or statutory care (children-in-care) are at a higher risk of not having their health needs met than the general pediatric population. A literature review found a paucity of evidence on the health information needed for initial assessments of children-in-care in health record information systems in Canada, particularly when compared with information collected in the comparator countries the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. This qualitative research reviewed six forms currently used in British Columbia (BC) for assessing the health needs of children-in-care, and for planning future health care delivery for these children. The forms were reviewed with social workers, foster parents, and medical care providers to understand how the forms met their needs for health information for initial assessments when a child first enters care. One researcher conducted 31 interviews with 37 participants —a mixture of social workers, foster parents, and medical care providers allowed for source triangulation— in urban and rural communities using a 19-question, nonvalidated interview tool. NVivo-10 was used to inductively encode participant interviews relying on Pava’s 9-step, nonlinear sociotechnical systems approach to identify themes and concepts raised by the interviews. The researcher conducted an informal review of relevant Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) organization documents and method triangulated the results to the interview findings to identify similarities, differences, and gaps. Findings from these two analyses were compared with the literature review findings. The six forms were found to document most of the required information for typical children-in-care provided the forms were available to the care team and completed in full prior to the initial assessment. Additional forms were used for children-in-care with complex health needs. Key health information included parents’ relevant health and social information, prenatal and birth records, medical and social history of the child, immunization record, whether the child had experienced adverse childhood events, and anything that might remind the child of a stressful situation and cause the child an adverse mental or physical outcome. Complexity in acquiring the needed health information comes from a variety of circumstances. For example, the child may transition in and out of care, parents may be unavailable, and social workers, foster parents, and medical care providers may each change while the child is in care. To overcome information-sharing challenges and barriers, research participants recommended several improvements including funding changes to support medical care provider participation, an information-sharing framework, and electronic options such as a centralized child-in-care record with secure email capability. Introducing some practices from other jurisdictions, notably a senior medical advisor role and a medical assessment model, might help address process challenges when health information is missing during the initial medical assessment. These resources would help round out MCFD’s existing conceptual child-in-care health-care framework. Together these changes may support social workers, foster parents, and medical care providers to provide care to and plan for children-in-care.



child, youth, Canada, child custody, child health, needs assessment, medical assessment, health information systems, infant, newborn, child care, foster home care, social workers, electronic health records