FORT COLLINS – As a pediatrician, Deborah Crawford is familiar with the maladies kids face in the years leading up to adulthood. Treating more than broken arms from playground escapades, however, has been the driving passion of her work.
In 2008, Crawford worked with a handful of other physicians to create a program that addresses the physical, developmental and mental-health needs of foster-care children who are victims of abuse and neglect.
“It was apparent that I could spend a lot of time coming up with a plan of action and then have it fall through the cracks for kids who don’t have the support of functional families,” she said.
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“We have excellent health care here, and there’s no reason that these kids wouldn’t get it,” she added, referring to Plan de Salud del Valle health clinic, where she is a contract employee.
Healthy Harbors, the program Crawford spearheaded and with which she continues to volunteer, provides integrated health services for children in traditional foster care as well as kinship care. In addition to making sure the children receive the specialized care needed, Healthy Harbors collects their history and uses the information to create a consistent record that can be used to treat them effectively in the present and into the future.
“Social Services could ask me to see a child for abuse and neglect, but if I have no history, I don’t know what meds the child has been on, if there have been hospitalizations or how they’re doing in school,” Crawford said. “It’s horrifying to see a child and have the parent say that everything is great – that the child sleeps well, drinks all their milk and is good in school – and then I get notice that the parent is a meth addict or there is sexual abuse or truancy.
“This program brings all that information together.”
Healthy Harbors clients are seen by either Salud Clinic or the Family Medicine Center, also in Fort Collins. Health-care navigators involve families in creating medical histories for the children as a means of engaging them in each child’s life as much as possible.
Those families include people with substance addiction, poverty, mental illness, chronic medical conditions or who are living in domestic-abuse situations or in jail.
The program is funded by a grant that allows Healthy Harbors to take in 75 new family cases a year – just a tip of the iceberg, Crawford said.
As the only physician who reviews cases of abuse and neglect, she responds to referrals from law-enforcement agencies, mental-health providers, social services and child advocacy centers.
Programs that address the needs of what Crawford, who has specialized in this area since the 1980s, refers to as “our greatest at-risk population” sometimes exist in bigger cities but few kids in smaller towns ever make it to them.
“They have increased physical and mental health care needs, problems in school, and futures that can be grim,” she said. “Pediatrics in general can be fun, but I can make the greatest impact here.”