Giving Compass' Take:
- The Marshall Project and NPR found that the majority of state foster care agencies obtain money intended for foster children without telling them.
- How does this systemic issue with foster care reveal the way in which human services are de-prioritized? How can donors prioritize vulnerable populations like poor youth?
- Learn about the high risk of reentry back into foster care.
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Roughly 10% of foster youth in the U.S. are entitled to Social Security benefits, either because their parents have died or because they have a physical or mental disability that would leave them in poverty without financial help. This money — typically more than $700 per month, though survivor benefits vary — is considered their property under federal law.
The Marshall Project and NPR have found that in at least 36 states and Washington, D.C., state foster care agencies comb through their case files to find kids entitled to these benefits, then apply to Social Security to become each child’s financial representative, a process permitted by federal regulations. Once approved, the agencies take the money, almost always without notifying the children, their loved ones, or lawyers.
At least 10 state foster care agencies hire for-profit companies to obtain millions of dollars in Social Security benefits intended for the most vulnerable children in their care each year, according to a review of hundreds of pages of contract documents. A private firm that Alaska used while Hunter was in state care referred to acquiring benefits from people with disabilities as “a major line of business” in company records.
State foster care agencies collected more than $165 million from these children in 2018 alone, according to the most recent survey data from the research group Child Trends. And the number is likely much higher, according to Social Security Administration data for 10 states obtained by a member of Congress and shared with The Marshall Project and NPR.
In New York, California, and a handful of other states, foster care is run by counties, many of which also take this money, our reporting shows. Nationwide, foster care agencies are funded through a complicated web of federal and state grants and subsidies, paid for by taxpayers. Children’s Social Security benefits were not intended to be one of those funding streams, according to federal law.
Read the full article about the foster care system by Eli Hager and Joseph Shapiro at The Marshall Project.