Tips for Navigating Healthcare Appointments as a Therapeutic Foster Parent

Routine dentists, doctors, orthodontists, optometrists, and other healthcare appointments are never all that fun for kids. Most parents find themselves coaching their children through the necessary procedures, calming nerves along the way, and assuring them they are in good hands. 

This process is usually amplified for kids who have experienced trauma like many of the children in therapeutic foster care in Kentucky and across America.

For Children in foster care being around new adults, not to mention feeling vulnerable around a doctor, dentist or care provider can be incredibly uncomfortable, triggering, and even put them in a state of panic. 

Many of these children are still learning that adults can be trusted, that there is a difference between good and bad touch, and that they can be safe in the hands of another adult. 

All that to say, as a therapeutic foster parent it is incredibly important you be aware of the state of panic and adrenaline a seemingly simple appointment could put your foster child into. Like any kids, these healthcare appointments won’t be their favorite, but you can make the process go smoother and support your foster child through a new or difficult appointment. 

Tips to Smoother Healthcare Appointments:

Choose the Right Healthcare Provider

Before You even step foot into a doctor’s or dental office do research to find a trauma-informed healthcare provider. The work you must do to make sure your foster child is comfortable during their appointments will be cut in half if your healthcare provider is informed and aware of best practices. If you aren’t able to find a specifically trauma-informed provider, ask your foster care agency if they have recommendations for providers who do a good job with this specific demographic. 

Ask for Accommodations

You must notify your healthcare provider before stepping foot in their office that your foster child has experienced trauma and may have a difficult time in the appointment. Feel free to advocate for your foster child and request any accommodations you think would be helpful to them. This could include:

  • Having healthcare professionals explain to the child step-by-step what they are going to do before they do it
  • Asking the child’s permission before touching them
  • Offering breaks during a longer procedure 
  • Allowing a child to bring a fidget or comfort toy if it will not interfere with administering medical care
  • Having the child remain in the waiting room until their healthcare provider is ready to see them 

Prepare Your Foster Child

You will want to find the balance in giving plenty of time to prepare your foster child for a healthcare appointment while still not allowing them too much time to dread or worry. Many times we see them know the week of an appointment is a good option. The best way to calm nerves is often to give them as many details as possible, giving them fewer unknown things to worry about and providing them space to ask any questions they may have. It could be important to provide the following details:

  • If and where they will be touched
  • If any pain or discomfort can be expected
  • Whether they will be seeing a new healthcare provider or one they have seen before
  • How long do you expect the appointment to last
  • How long the drive to the appointment will be

Give small continual reminders and keep the doors of communication open leading up to the appointment. 

In the Moment Support

There are many ways you can support your foster child throughout an appointment. First, consider bringing along another trusted adult to help entertain and play with your foster child. This can be extremely helpful when you need to complete paperwork, answer questions, or wait in waiting rooms. This person should be someone who already has a trusted relationship with your foster child. 

 Here are some other ways to make the appointment go smoother:

  • Bring along a new toy that requires concentration (such as legos or a coloring book) to distract the kid while they are waiting to be seen.
  • Remind medical staff of the trauma-informed accommodations you asked for when scheduling the appointment
  • Plan something fun to do after the appointment that is both fun and can help bring kids their adrenaline back down that you can continually remind them of during the appointment (ie “After this we are going to get pizza for lunch! What kind are you going to pick?” or “I can’t wait to play at the park with you after this! For teenagers this could be walking or biking with them to a grocery or convenience store and allowing them to pick out some snacks.)
  • Acknowledge their feelings and help them name and normalize them. (ie “You are more fidgety than normal so it seems like you might be feeling nervous. I sometimes get nervous before doctor appointments too, it is normal to feel that way.”)
  • Provide reassurances but be honest. (“I know you don’t want to get a shot and I know you are scared of needles. A shot can hurt for a second but I will be here with you the whole time and you can hold my hand if you want. It will be fast and then you will be all done.”)

Foster Care Support

Many times parents dread healthcare appointments just as much as children do, as they navigate the best way to support them through their nerves, uncomfortably, and triggering scenarios. At Benchmark Family Services we are always here to be a resource and support to the Foster Parents we work with. 

If healthcare appointments are a concern of yours or you are looking for more tips and resources to make them successful, contact our team today.