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Refugee Foster Care Health

Refugee Foster Care Health

Picture of Shuka Kalantari

Most unaccompanied refugee minors arrive in the U.S. with basic health issues that need to be addressed. Many are malnourished, having nearly starved on their journey to the States - and many have untreated and/or undiagnosed illnesses. These children also come with severe psychological scars that need addressing. A minority of the refugee minors arriving in Northern California are formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 1980 a refugee foster care program was created in the U.S. and, since it's inception, almost 13,000 of these young refugees have come to this country, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. This past year, approximately 700 refugee foster children have arrived to the States for care.

In Northern California, a large number of  these childen receive assistance from a non-profit refugee foster care program. Since its inception, the program has resettled approximately 45 children. The youth, predominately Burmese and East & West African, but also Middle Eastern and Latino, work with refugee counselors to reconcile their traumatic past with their new lives and receive health education as well. The foster children are under the care of doctors either through Medi-Cal or Refugee Health Clinics, and they are protected by federal and state laws requiring health assessments. But the children arrive having had little to no healthcare, let alone health education. Without understanding how to take care of their health, and without knowledge of the many unhealthy elements of Western diets - particularly fast-food - the children lack the basic tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

My story for the California Health Journalism Fellowship will focus on the nutritional and psychological support & education that the foster children receive from refugee foster care counselors and foster parents in order to support a healthy life.

"Some of these children come here and don't know where the stomach is located, or what purpose it serves...They're getting healthcare, but no health curriculum."  - Sergio; refugee foster care worker

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U.S. children and teens have struggled with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior for much of the past decade. Join us as we explore the systemic causes and policy failures that have accelerated the crisis and its inequitable impact, as well as promising community-driven approaches and evidence-based practices. The webinar will provide fresh ideas for reporting on the mental health of youth and investigating the systems and services. Sign-up here!

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