by Ashley Barker
Children in foster care often fall between the cracks when it comes to their health, but two MUSC employees are making care for the special group of people their priority.
Frederica Hughes, certified pediatric nurse practitioner, and Machelle Green, human services coordinator, provide primary and acute care for children up to age 21 through the Foster Care Support Clinic. Working through the Children's Hospital, the clinic sees an average of 10 children each week, but has more than 270 children enrolled.
"I always believe that if you can make a difference in at least one person's life, then you have been successful," said Green.
Hughes and Green teach community classes — ranging from CPR instruction and asthma education to relaxation techniques for parents who are overwhelmed — free of charge. They also coordinate services for children who have complex medical problems and provide counseling services, with school and home visits as needed.
"To not address foster care in a children's hospital, is like to have a shoe but not have a foot to put in it," Hughes said. "The clinic makes MUSC Children's Hospital more comprehensive."
The clinic's enrollment has nearly tripled in size since it began in 2009 and is making an impact on families in Charleston, Berkley and Dorchester counties. For Hughes, one family stands out.
"We have a family — a husband and a wife — who always wanted children," Hughes said. "They were born to be parents. They read all the books and go to all the classes."
Karena Aiken, an MUSC employee, and her husband, Antonio Aiken, fostered their first child in December 2009, a 4-year-old boy named Jalin. They brought home 2-month-old Kavon a month later.
Kavon, who was born premature at 27 weeks, had a narrow esophagus and arrived with many health challenges. "I would literally walk in a room and catch him gasping for air," said Karena Aiken.
While Jalin was primarily physically healthy, he was diagnosed with ADHD shortly after joining his new family. At age 4, he would tell people that he was only 2 years old, and he didn't know his alphabet.
"My husband invested a lot of time and patience just getting Jalin to the point that he knew he was 4 years old," Aiken said. "That's left a lasting impression on Jalin. Even as a 4-year-old, he knew he didn't have that support before he came into care with us."
Aiken began leaning heavily on Hughes at the clinic for support.
"Frederica was truly a godsend to me and my family," she said. "There was nothing that was too small or too big. She never hesitated. She addressed every little concern."
Eventually, the two young boys became adoptable. During the adoption hearing in June 2011, Jalin, then 6, shared with the judge how much of an impact his new family had already made on him.
"When the judge asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, 'I want to be just like my daddy, and I want to help a little boy just like me,'" said Hughes. "The judge included, we were all weeping."
According to Aiken, Jalin was recently awarded student of the month at his school.
For more information about the Foster Care Support Clinic, call 876-7023.