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In my last diary, I wrote about the practice of state foster care agencies taking foster children's social security benefits as government revenue. I wrote a commentary in the Baltimore Sun about the practice in Maryland, available here.  The Maryland Department of Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas wrote a response defending the practice - and my reply to the Secretary is in today's Baltimore Sun, available here: "Sorry, but DHR is robbing foster children." (which includes a link to the agency's defense of practice). Below is an excerpt responding to the Secretary's assertions/defenses:

1. Other states take children's assets too. True. But that doesn't make it right.

2. The practice is in agency regulation. True. The agency actually wrote its own regulation to take not only children's Social Security benefits, but all of the child's resources including assets, insurance, trust accounts and the child's own earnings. Everything. I think that's bad policy.

3. "Every dime goes to helping that child." Not true. Children see zero benefit when the agency takes their funds to reimburse costs for services the state is already federally required to provide — and for which children have no debt obligation. The MAXIMUS contract makes the goal clear: "revenue enhancement" for the state.

4. The practice wasn't done in secret. Not true. For years, the agency has applied for and taken the benefits of disabled and orphaned children with no notice to the children or their lawyers. The agency fiercely argued in court against giving notice, even arguing a boy's claim was time-barred for not filing within one year after the state began taking his funds although he was a child without notice.

5. The Supreme Court validated the practice. Also not accurate. The court only addressed whether federal law banning attachment of benefits by creditors applies to this practice and concluded no — that states aren't creditors of foster children because no law "provides that [children] are liable to repay the department for the costs of their care…" The court recognized that several legal concerns remain undecided — including breach of fiduciary duty and constitutional violations.

6. The agency is striving to improve services. I agree, and the agency needs more funding. However, it's not good policy for the state or agency to seek revenue by taking assets from abused and neglected children.

As stated in my reply:  
In fairness to Mr. Dallas, he didn't start this practice. He inherited it. But he could stop it immediately. Rather than defending and expanding the practice of taking foster children's funds, he could take the lead in doing what's right for children.
It's not complicated.  A foster care agency created for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of vulnerable children should not take those children's assets.

Originally posted to PovertyLawProf on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 09:54 AM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Words fail (12+ / 0-)

    Does MD want these kids to age out destitute and homeless?

    “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon Baines Johnson

    by spacecadet1 on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 10:29:20 AM PDT

  •  So if the state "enhances revenue" by taking (8+ / 0-)

    foster children's SSI/SSID checks, what motivation is there to work for family reunification? Or finding suitable relative placements?

    I worked with enough foster children to know  the abuses of the system. A major part of the reason I am not doing therapy is due to blowing the whistle on several cases of state sanctioned mistreatment of children in foster care.

    I sincerely appreciate the OPs advocacy for these children and sincerely hope the system is reformed to truly protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

    Missing you dad. Still trying to change the person at a day at a time.

    by jadt65 on Thu Oct 24, 2013 at 10:46:02 AM PDT

  •  what's wrong (0+ / 0-)

    With this comparison, when adults are on SNAP and other welfare type programs, they also aren't incurring a debt to the state, but their benefits are reduced when they have more income and are expected to spend all of their income on living expenses.  I know this contributes to the cycle of dependency and makes it harder for them to get on their feet, but that is the way it is.  So why shouldn't it be the same for children?  Isn't foster care a welfare type program[and I don't intend to imply negative connotations by using the word welfare]?

    Also if the state isn't in charge of this money, who is?  The foster parents?  Because we generally don't give six year olds control of their own finances.

    •  Foster children don't owe debts... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      viral, FarWestGirl, chimene

      for their own care...
      I appreciate your questions.  Those programs were created to be a means tested benefit - meaning the amount of the benefit is reduced if the individual's income increases.  And the adult applies for them - seeks out the benefit.  

      Children do not apply for foster care services nor do they seek out the foster care services. They are taken from their families (who are usually poor and majority of cases are due to neglect, not abuse). The children have no choice. And I simply do not think its good policy for states to take assets from children.

      If the state is not in charge of the money as representative payee, other family members or non-profit organizations or volunteers etc could be (even accounting firms or law firms offering the service pro bono).  For adults on social security who need rep payees (because they do not have mental capacity to manage their own funds), DSS offices actually help organize volunteers to serve as rep payees to manage the money in a way that is best for the adults.  There could be similar arrangements for individuals or organizations to manage the funds for foster children - in way that helps the children.

      •  when you say social security (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PovertyLawProf, chimene

        Do you mean survivor benefits?  In which case their parents are sadly dead and they have no family.  The children might not have a choice, but it is more a lack of options no choice and not a forced no choice.

        Or disability benefits?  Do children qualify for those?  If so, it is because their care is expensive and I doubt there would ever be anything left over.

        Or some other kind of benefits?

        •  The state takes both types of benefits (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          chimene, spacecadet1

          And yes, children can receive disability benefits called SSI benefits.  The children's SSI benefits do not have anything to do with their cost of foster care - it depends on whether the children are disabled and whether they came (were removed) from a poor family.  

          In contracts with companies like MAXIMUS, the state searches to make sure it has found all the foster children with deceased parents - and tries to maximize the number of children determined disabled - all without telling the children.  Then, the states apply for their benefits and takes them to reimburse state costs, thus bolstering govt revenue.  

          In Md, the state goes further and wrote its own regulation saying it will take all resources belonging to the child - if a child were lucky enough to have a small savings account, the state regulation says it should take those funds to repay the cost of foster care.

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