Earlier this week, we began a discussion of the allegations against child welfare agencies. Specifically, they are accused of improperly and unfairly pocketing Social Security amounts paid out on behalf of foster children who qualify based on a disability or a deceased parent. Critics claim that the state and local agencies should be diverting this money to the children so they are able to care for themselves when they turn 18 and age out of the foster care system.
For the already cash-strapped child welfare agencies, though, the amounts received through Social Security Disability or similar programs are essential to placing children in foster homes and in maintaining their care during their time in the foster program. According to social services employee Judith Schagrin, agencies are doing nothing but following state and federal law. "States are not in fact maliciously stealing children's money," she said, adding that she is disappointed in the "inflammatory language" being used to vilify welfare agencies. In addition, she stated that California Representative Pete Stark's bill, which would require agencies to create individualized financial plans for children receiving SSD, would create a "tremendous burden" to agencies that are already stretched thin.
Schagrin is right: under current federal and state law, welfare agencies have no obligation to inform children that they qualify for Social Security benefits, and they have every right to use the payments to fund a foster child's care. In addition, the continuing recession means that agencies are under-funded, and that there are more children in foster care, so to cut their funding would undoubtedly lead to a loss of essential service for many children.
It remains to be seen whether Representative Stark's bill will gain footing in Congress. We will continue to update our blog with information as it develops.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "States' use of foster kids' benefits is assailed", 16 March 2011