Project ECHO Build Support for Children in Foster Care
Being removed from their home and placed in foster care is a difficult and stressful experience for any child. For the more than 407,000 children and youth in foster care in the United States, trauma, mental health challenges and housing instability are just some of the issues they face. But in a system that can be challenging to navigate, health care providers often don’t have the tools to connect this vulnerable population with the additional support they need.
Project ECHO is working to address this. With our “all-teach, all-learn” approach, the ECHO model is training health care providers on how to navigate the complex issues around supporting foster children, and there’s potential for this virtual mentoring model to do even more.
In South Carolina, one organization leveraged the ECHO model to equip providers with easy and effective ways to address the unique needs of the state’s 4,600 children and youth in foster care. First Choice by Select Health – a Medicaid managed care plan and part of Philadelphia-based AmeriHealth Caritas – launched the Foster Care Collaborative ECHO in January 2021. In its first round of sessions, the Foster Care ECHO reached 54 participants.
“Both my clinical experience as a pediatrician and my experience as Select Health Foster Care Medical Director have highlighted just how vulnerable this population is,” says Dr. Kathleen Domm. “Often, children and youth in foster care have complicated medical and social histories, and they present to the provider’s office with little or no available health history.”
The Foster Care Collaborative ECHO, launched in collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the Medical University of South Carolina Foster Care Support Clinic, covers topics ranging from how to recognize abuse and neglect to partnerships with school systems, sleep disorders, and suicide risk assessment and prevention.
“The ECHO program equips providers with supplemental resources and support so critical in serving the needs of children and youth in foster care,” adds Dr. Domm. “Preventive health services are important for all children, but especially this population, because they have higher rates of physical and mental health issues.”
For Dr. Kristin Sohl, president of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and founder of ECHO Autism, the ECHO model provides an ideal support structure to make a complex system more manageable.
Based on the success of their autism program, Dr. Sohl and her team are planning to launch a foster care ECHO for Missouri later this year. While this ECHO will be targeted at primary care pediatricians, its goal is to impact the whole foster care system.
“Primary care pediatricians may not fully understand what’s going on in these kids’ lives, and that’s important,” says Dr. Sohl. “The system is complex and it’s hard to know what your role is. ECHO is designed to help them better understand the system.”
Dr. Sohl believes that the ECHO model can bring system-wide quality improvement to foster care, and is talking to partners in other states about starting their own foster care ECHO programs.
“In many states, the foster care system is having to put out fires rather than looking at the big picture,” Sohl says. “Instead of ‘firefighting,’ it just makes sense to give everyone access to the same experts, so that every foster child in the state can benefit and providers who serve them can create a community and know they’re not alone.”
About Project ECHO
Since 2003, Project ECHO’s telementoring model has been used to tackle the world’s greatest challenges in health care, education and more. Headquartered at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, Project ECHO is empowering local communities to improve the well-being of people around the world. Join us today, in our mission to touch 1 billion lives by 2025.