In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state and county welfare agencies are legally entitled to use foster children's Social Security benefits to cover some of the costs of the child's foster placement and other care. There are federal and state regulations which echo that decision. In recent months, however, critics have been crying foul, claiming that by taking foster kids' Social Security Disability benefits, agencies are undermining the children's future.
Currently, there are more than 460,000 children in foster care in the United States, 30,000 of which receive Social Security benefits for a disability or to compensate for a deceased parent. It is estimated that state and local agencies collect more than $150 million each year in disability or survivor benefits, which they use to fund children's foster services.
Many critics are now claiming that agencies improperly collect this money, often without even informing the child that he or she is eligible to receive it. According to U.S. Representative Pete Stark of California, these actions "sabotage" the future of foster children, many of whom age out of the foster program with no family and no money, leading them straight into homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse. If children were able to receive their SSD benefits, Stark says, they may be able to begin and maintain successful and healthy adult lives.
In the coming weeks, Stark plans to introduce a bill called the "Foster Children Self-Support Act." Under the proposed law, foster agencies would be required to screen all children for Social Security eligibility and notify the child's attorney or other legal guardian if he or she is eligible. Then, the agency would be required to develop a financial plan for each child, with the goal of using accumulated Social Security monies for basic needs or education after the child turns 18 and ages out of foster care.
We will continue our discussion of this topic next week with a look at agencies' response to these claims.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "States' use of foster kids' benefits is assailed", 16 March 2011