Like many mothers, Katie Hafkenscheid begins her day by waking and bathing her babies — some of whom are medically fragile foster children. But thats not an issue for Hafkenscheid, RN, CPN, INP, who formerly worked for Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif.
As a single parent, she wanted to be home with her biological sons, ages 13 and 11, and her adopted son, 12. Plus, taking care of foster children with medical issues, she said, is akin to caring for patients in a childrens hospital. The only difference is location and rotation.
“We have children in the hospital who come and go,” she said. “Its different because theyre in my home and theyre the same patients every day. [Foster children] long to be loved and need someone who is going to be there for them. My kids laugh that most people take in stray dogs and cats. We take in babies.”
Her 18-month-old foster child has Tetralogy of Fallot, a G-tube and must be taken weekly to occupational therapy, physical therapy and cardiology visits. Her other foster baby, a 1-year-old, has supraventricular tachycardia. Hes easy to care for, she said, because he only needs medication three times a day.
She fostered her 12-year-old son for three years before adopting him. He has cystic fibrosis, a G-tube, uses a nebulizer and must consume a nutritional supplement daily — fed by mouth and through his G-tube at night — to maintain his weight.Katie Hafkenscheid, RN, back row, second from left, stands with her family in Hawaii. Her family includes, back row, from left, Adam Hafkenscheid, Jared Hafkenscheid and Erika Hafkenscheid. Standing in front is adopted son Daniel Reynoso.
Hafkenscheid is one of many nurses who heard about the need for fostering while working with Angels in Waiting, a nonprofit organization that works with nurses to care for medically fragile foster children. Nurses who foster children receive a stipend.
“These kids would be in nursing homes because of their medical issues, but they really dont need to be,” she said.
Of the 16,000 foster care children in Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, between 1,200 to 1,600 are considered medically fragile, according to the DCFS website. They can range from a child with asthma who needs daily nebulizer treatments to a child who has been bedridden since birth. Children are classified by levels; the more severe cases are level 3 or 4.
Jeffrey S. Gibbs, LMFT, assistant regional administrator, medical case management services, works with children who are level 3 or 4. Some have cerebral palsy, diabetes, HIV or have had a heart transplant. “We specialize in working to coordinate all of their medical care needs,” Gibbs said.
Sometimes they find nurses willing to foster through word of mouth. Public health nurses who work with DCFS tell other nurses who work at nearby hospitals — such as Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles — about the need. “We identify those who could work with medically fragile children,” Gibbs said.
Whats encouraging is their ability to keep children thriving. For instance, theyve helped children with short gut syndrome live well into their teens.
“It takes blood, sweat and tears from both the agencys end and the foster parents end,” said Charles Sophy, MD, LA County DCFS medical director. “We keep kids living a lot longer and safer because of all our hard work.”
The agency is on a constant search for more skilled medical professionals willing to make the commitment. Steps to fostering include an orientation, a home study, 36 hours of training and a state license.
“About 15 DCFS foster parents have nursing experience, but more are needed,” said Melissa Testerman, MSW, childrens social worker 3 and DCFS medical placement intake coordinator. “We just dont have enough right now,” she said. “We get around 10 requests each week for placement. We have between 15 to 30 kids who are waiting [for placement] at any time.”
For information or to volunteer, visit www.ShareYourHeartLA.org or www.AngelsinWaitingUSA.org or call 888-811-1121.