Ramsey County kids ‘lost’ in the medical system are found at Children’s

A child is left with a family friend, and the parents are nowhere to be found.

A teacher notices bruising over several weeks and worries the student is being abused.

The police are called, and the child is taken to the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota before being placed in short-term foster care.

Through the Ramsey County Shelter Program, kids who are victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment in the county are taken to Children’s in St. Paul and given a full medical screening, new clothes thanks to the Children’s Foundation and a meal. Once they get the care they need, they’re placed in short-term foster care.

“We can get these kids healthier so they have a better childhood and a healthier, long-term life,” said Dr. Kellee Street, the medical director of the program.

There have been more than 12,300 patient visits since the program’s start in 1993, said Jean Henry, program coordinator. Children’s sees an average of one to two at-risk kids per day. As of mid-November, there had been 368 visits this year.

It’s critical for police officers to know they can take kids to a safe place to be evaluated, said St. Paul police Chief Tom Smith.

“This does make a huge difference here (in the community),” Smith said.

A recent lead gift from the Peter J. King Family Foundation has helped transform the St. Paul Emergency Department, and those physical changes help it continue to be a safe space for youth in the program. The updates also improve care and dramatically cut down on patient and family wait times. (Pioneer Press story here)

Street believes the county program is one of a few, if not the only, in the United States where kids to be placed in short-term foster care are first screened by medical staff.  In other counties and beyond Minnesota, children typically aren’t screened for up to 48 to 72 hours, she said.

Often, they lack current vaccinations, have poor dental health or have increased lead levels due to exposure where they live, Street said. Elevated lead levels can result in long-term developmental problems.

Children’s staff contact the child’s provider – if there is one – or inform the county if follow-up care is needed, Street said. In some cases, the child is admitted into the hospital.

“There are things we pick up that most people would never have found,” she said. “These are kids that are lost in the medical system.”

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