Who Gets the Money?

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March 26, 2011; Source: Star-Tribune | Critics of current foster care policies in New York are accusing child welfare agencies of illegally confiscating foster children’s government benefits. The focus of the controversy is a common national practice – state agencies taking control of Social Security benefits that are earmarked for foster children with disabilities or a disabled or deceased parent.

The agencies, already struggling with restricted budgets, claim they are entitled to the money to help cover basic needs and foster care expenses. But critics believe the money should be managed in ways that best support the youth after they turn 18 and are out of the foster care system.

A new report, “The Fleecing of Foster Children,” was released on Wednesday by First Star, a national nonprofit which advocates for abused children, and the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children Advocacy Institute. It urges Congress to mandate changes and supports legislation that Rep. Pete Stark (D- Calif.), will soon introduce.

The Foster Children Self Support Act, Rep. Stark’s bill, would require agencies to screen all foster children for Social Security eligibility, notify their attorney or guardian regarding status, and be required to develop individual plans and accounts for each eligible child. After leaving foster care, youth could use Social Security assets for housing, education or job training expenses.

This assistance could help reduce the high rates of homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse among the estimated 30,000 youths who age out of foster care each year without a permanent family.

Coinciding with this report is a lawsuit in Baltimore alleging that the county social service agency illegally used a foster youth’s social security benefits as reimbursement for the costs of basic care.

Amy Harfeld, policy consultant with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, said that agencies are being financially strapped to the point of desperation, and foster kids are easy targets. Federal and state officials say they are following established regulations.

First Star’s report also notes that foster children are frequent victims of identity theft because their Social Security numbers circulate widely among relatives, foster parents and agency employees, all having access to the personal information. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) is working on a bill to curtail this problem.—Nancy Knoche

  • David Cearley

    The New York connection is misleading. Senators are working on a bill to disallow states from taking this money. New York actually has a transition program with subsidies, for kids aging out, many other states do not. Imagine being removed from a disfunctional family by the state, left I’n the foster care system till you’re 18 while the state collects your social security benefits, then being booted tonthe curb with no family, no support system, and no money at 18. According to statistics, kids that have been I’n the foster care system make up at least half of our prison populations, and a fair chunk of the homeless and mentally ill. I say dump Obamacare and create a more robust safety net for these kids or we will end up spending exorbitant sums on them once they are grown, not to mention the economic costs of so many unproductive citizens.

  • Alan Schonborn

    This disgraceful practice has been commonplace for decades. It bears little connection to the unique financial crises currently being experienced by states. Despite payments provided by Title IV-E and IV-B funding from Washington, states have been double-dipping into these children’s Social Security payments to recover their costs to provide mandated care for years.
    I have attempted to explain the rationale for this to many 18 year olds that are aging out of care with no nest egg to fall back on in thier first years on their own. It’s easy to see the anger and renewed sense of betrayal that these foster children experience.

  • Richard Wexler

    The practice is common across the country and reflects the arrogance of America’s child welfare establishment. When the bill to stop states from swiping foster children’s money first was introduced, both the Child Welfare League of America and the Children’s Defense Fund opposed it.

    There is more about it on my organization’s Child Welfare Blog, http://www.nccprblog.org

    Richard Wexler
    Executive Director
    National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
    http://www.nccpr.org / http://www.whyfundnccpr.org

  • tasha

    Goverment benefits are to assist in supporting the children If they were living with a relative or a biological parent their guardian is not mandated to save a certain percent of the funds. Why should they be entitled to anything that the average child would not be entitled to. The money given by the goverment is to support the children if they are in foster care, with a parent, or a caretaker the money is still doing what it is suppose to do. Assist int he care of the child. If the amount of benefits exceeds what the state provides then any excess should be put in an account for the child. In many cases the State spends more then what the benefits would of covered. When you child is in foster care you should have to waive all rights to benefits that your children should recieve and forward them to the State the real provider!