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My recent commentary in the Baltimore Sun discusses how Maryland seeks out foster children who are disabled or have dead parents - and then takes their social security benefits as government revenue.  The full piece is available here: "How Maryland robs its most vulnerable children."

As explained in the article, the "foster care agency is targeting abused and neglected children who are disabled or have dead parents, applying for Social Security benefits on their behalf — and then diverting the money to state coffers. The practice has been occurring for years, but in secret. Children and their lawyers are not notified."

In fact, the Maryland agency not only drafted its own regulation saying it should take foster children's social security benefits - but its regulation says the agency should take "“[all] of the child’s resources” - assets, benefits, insurance, trust accounts, the child’s own earnings - and anything else belonging to the child.

States are obligated to provide foster care services, and children have no debt obligation for their own care - but the state is forcing foster children to pay for their own foster care by applying their assets to reimburse state costs.

Maryland even hired a private company to help figure out how to get more foster children determined as disabled so the state can take their funds:

"Despite litigation regarding the practice, Maryland hired a private contractor — MAXIMUS (tag line: "Helping Government Serve the People") — to help broaden these efforts to "maximize revenue gain." Records obtained under the Maryland Public Information Act request expose:
•MAXIMUS recommendations "designed to promote the identification of and subsequent acquisition of all SSI/SSDI benefits for all qualifying foster care children;"
•MAXIMUS' encouragement of caseworkers "to refer any child suspected from suffering from any illness — from a quadriplegic to ADHA [sic];"
•A goal to increase the number of Maryland foster children determined disabled for Social Security benefits from the current 2 percent to 15-20 percent
•Plans to convert up to $9 million annually in resulting children's benefits to government revenue;
•And a warning that Maryland may be double-dipping by possibly obtaining foster children's assets and other funds to reimburse itself for state costs more than once."
Further, the article discusses the cases of two foster care boys. I represented one of the boys named Alex, and Legal Aid represented Ryan.  Both boys' parents died while they were in foster care. Then, the agency created to protect foster children's interests took the boys' benefits without telling them they were even eligible to receive survivor benefits - the last financial connection to their parents:
"The boys never knew their parents left them with survivor benefits because the foster care agency never told them — and never told them it applied for their benefits, that it became representative payee to gain control over their money, or that it routed their money into state coffers. Both boys left foster care penniless."
Other states unfortunately engage in the same practice. But the fact that more than one state takes assets from abused and neglected children does not make it it a good policy.  Foster care agencies are underfunded, and states are cash strapped - in part due to the current anti-tax climate.  But if Maryland and the foster care agency need more resources, is the answer really to take resources from the very children the foster care agency was created to serve?

Rather than routing children's funds into government coffers and thus providing no benefit to the children, why not actually use the children's own resources to help the children? The agency could empower children by including them in a planning process, while also teaching financial literacy, to decide how to use the children’s funds to best meet their individualized needs - whether specialized needs not met by the foster care system or conserving the funds for future needs as the children struggle to leave foster care and achieve independence.

Originally posted to PovertyLawProf on Sun Oct 20, 2013 at 07:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos.

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