Health & Nutrition

Did You Know?

More than 500 youth have participated in at least one event or training related to daily living and self-care with the help of Project LIFE.

Workers can help youth improve their everyday choices, from the food they eat to the people they hang out with, to the time they spend sitting on the couch watching TV. Better choices can help them develop a stronger sense of well-being and more confidence, both of which they need to succeed.

Health & Nutrition

Taking a look at the things that go into a youth’s body — food, drink, medication —  and into his or her mind — what they read or watch and who they pay attention to — will help them sharpen their understanding of themselves as individuals who can affect their own futures.

Healthcare eligibility

Helping youth become aware of the health care coverage available to them can significantly shape their access to to proper care. Medicaid coverage is available to eligible former foster care youth who were receiving Medicaid and foster care services in any state at the time of their 18th birthday and are currently under age 26. Any young adults who were in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday can apply online at or by calling the Cover Virginia Call Center at 1-855-242-8282.

Medicaid covers many medical services, including mental health, prescriptions, case management and dental care, among others. Covered Services for Former Foster Care Youth will give youth more details about what is covered and what is not.

Healthy mind: youth body image

At the same time that youth face the challenge of aging out of foster care, they are also undergoing significant body changes. It is important to help young people realize their uniqueness and understand that everyone develops differently and at different times so comparisons with others is a losing game. While they do not have control over the natural changes their bodies are undergoing, healthy eating and exercise can affect how their bodies develop. Healthy habits developed early can help young people perform better no matter what path they choose.

Youth were probably exposed to exercise in school but, unless they were on a school team, physical education class may not have inspired them to continue exercising. By making young people aware of the wealth of exercise options they have, you can help them find one that they are genuinely excited about and will stick with. By exploring how their body feels doing different activities such as yoga, martial arts or other activities that involve focus on how the body stretches and moves, they may discover a lifelong exercise option that will help them stay healthy.

Use the Exercise Choices tool to explore with youth what their preferences are, such as exercising with a friend or alone, playing for fun or competing on a team.

Introduction to Nutrients and the healthy food guide are good starting points for discussing food choices and how they affect us.

Healthy mind: emotional awareness

Teens often struggle with identity and self-image. On top of that, hormonal changes may cause them to be irritable for no reason. They may need help coping with these challenges. First, help them recognize that they are going through natural changes. Help them figure out what emotions they are experiencing and healthy ways to express them. A good exercise is to name emotions. For example, you can ask the youth what is the difference between feeling angry and feeling irritated, as they experience it. How can each be expressed in a healthy way?

The next stage is to consciously decide what mood they would like to be in on a particular occasion and figure out how they might achieve that mood. They need to know that taking action to change their mood, such as changing body posture or changing their environment — even for a few minutes — can make a world of difference and give them the sense of being in control. Help them develop tools to change their mindset to one that is more positive and more likely to help them cope with the challenges they face. Online tools, such as TeensHealth are plentiful and very accessible to youth.

Health and sex

DID YOU KNOW? More than 46 percent of teens admitted to having sex.

-U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013

It takes time for youth to understand who they are and who they’re becoming. Part of that involves having a greater understanding of their own sexual feelings and who is attractive to them. If the youth you are working with are sexually active, talk to them about protecting themselves and their partner by using contraceptives as well as the advantages and limitations of different kinds of contraception.

In Virginia, minors (those under the age of 18) are not legally required to notify or get permission from their parents to obtain birth control. Many forms of birth control are available. Some require a prescription from a doctor; others don’t. Encourage them to talk to a medical professional who can help them find the method that is right for them.

It is also important that youth feel comfortable talking about risk prevention and become knowledgeable about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The STD tool is a good start on that conversation.

Abusive relationships

Youth sometimes find themselves in situations that they do not want to be in but fear speaking out about. Or they may not realize that the relationship is abusive. Both boys and girls may be the victims of abuse. Helping youth recognize when they are being treated badly is essential.

What is abuse?

When one person tries to control, frighten, intimidate, hurt, threaten or coerce another, that is abuse, just as hitting, slapping, choking, throwing things and threatening physical harm are. Dangerous behavior includes expressive aggression such as name calling, and attempts to monitor, threaten, or control their partner’s behavior. Some psychologists consider this behavior the most harmful kind of abuse.

During their lifetime, nearly half of all women experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner. Men are also abused, by women or by other men. A substantial proportion of U.S. male adults have experienced some form of sexual violence, stalking, or intimate partner violence at least once during their lifetimes.

Often, mistreatment is done in the guise of “love,” as in “if you love me, you will … “ Youth need to be very clear about the fact those who love them will not coerce them in doing something that is not good for them.

If a boyfriend or girlfriend puts someone down, makes fun of their ideas or achievements, tries to control their life or makes them feel afraid, it is an abusive relationship, and you should step in.



Keeping any youth healthy in body and mind is no easy task, and doing so for youth in foster care may be particularly challenging. Attention to personal needs and goals as well as finding good role models can provide a constructive framework. The months before youth transition out of foster care is the time to shape habits and behaviors that will keep youth healthy when they are living on their own. Family service specialists can help youth become informed and make better choices.