Jasmine Moise picks up 2-year-old Aiden* and puts the toddler on her lap. It might simply look like a foster mother bonding with her foster son, but it’s much more serious.
“His heart is beating too fast. He needs to calm down,” Moise tells her sister Patrice, who is standing nearby.
A typical human heart has four chambers. Aiden has only three.
Moise continues to hold the 2-year-old, trying to keep him still. She keeps her hand on his chest over his heart — monitoring and keeping him safe.
Patrice and Jasmine are both registered nurses in Palmdale, Calif., but they’re also foster parents to Aiden and Mason* — two medically fragile toddlers. “Medically fragile” is the statutory term California uses for children with acute or chronic health issues that require therapeutic interventions and intensive care during all or part of the day. These issues can come as a result of a mother’s drug or alcohol use or because of other severe medical conditions or injuries. Medically fragile children frequently end up in institutional care in California’s foster care system; caregivers are often challenged to meet their serious medical needs.
The Moise sisters are part of a group called Angels in Waiting, a nonprofit made up of nurses who step up to care for medically fragile babies and children in foster care in California. With about 500 members, the organization helps guide nurses through the difficulties of Medi-Cal, the foster care process, and continuously working to get more counties to specifically recruit nurse foster parents.
In 2012, Los Angeles County had about 10 nurse foster parents. After working with Angels in Waiting, it now has about 60, but the need is closer to 100, according to Melissa Testerman, medical placement coordinator for the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
“The hard thing is finding nurse foster parents in the areas we need them, such as the city of Los Angeles and the South Bay,” Testerman said. “That’s where our [birth] parents are.”