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In Los Angeles, the County Board of Supervisors took action to ensure that young people in care who receive Social Security benefits are actually able to use that money – an extremely rare decision nationwide.
The board of directors unanimously passed a motion this week requiring the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services to ensure that young people in foster care who receive child and family benefits Social Security have access to these checks when they get older out of the system. The vast majority of state and county child welfare agencies across the country routinely take these benefits for themselves, often without notifying the young person or a family member, a recent investigation by NPR and Marshall found. Project.
It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of children and young people in foster care are eligible for social security benefits – because they have a disability or a parent has a disability, or because a parent has died . These checks can amount to several hundred dollars a month or more.
State and county child welfare offices, according to the NPR survey, view checks as reimbursement for room, board and other services they provide to the young person in foster care – even whether agencies are required to provide these services by federal law, and other youth in foster care are not required to reimburse agencies for their care.
When young people in foster care are no longer in care, at 18 or 21 in many states, they often leave with little money. This is one of the reasons why large numbers of former young people in foster care quickly find themselves homeless – around 36% in one study – and many end up in prison and few complete their education.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, co-sponsor of the motion, said the new directive aims to reverse these poor outcomes for young people in foster care.
“It is a game changer for their lives,” she told NPR. “A lot of these young people… when they leave our services, end up becoming homeless if they don’t have financial support. And we have to break this cycle. “
Los Angeles has more foster children than most states. There are some 33,000 foster children there, about half the total in all of California.
The motion is an intermediate step. He tells the county child welfare agency to “ensure” that an interest-bearing bank account is opened for all young people in foster care who receive Social Security benefits so that they can have access to the money “when they leave foster care”.
The motion also required state agencies to report within 30 days with data – on how much Social Security benefits are collected and where that money is going. California state law already requires the opening of bank accounts for young people in care, but Sue Abrams of the Children’s Law Center in California said their lawyers “noticed that this did not happen regularly.”
Abrams said the action of supervisors is a “big step” in determining whether further policy changes need to be made to ensure young people in foster care have access to their social security benefits.
The pandemic, she said, has exacerbated the financial challenges faced by children in foster care. These social security checks, says Abrams, are “a vital benefit for everyone and especially for young people leaving foster care.”
In 2018, Maryland passed a law – the only state in the country – that requires social security checks to be reserved for young people in foster care. Forty percent of the check is set aside when the young person turns 14, then 100% from the age of 18.
There is also a movement in Congress to create a similar federal law. Rep. Danny Davis, a Democrat from Chicago, is working on a new version of legislation he introduced in the past that would require child welfare agencies to screen foster children and youth to find who are eligible for Social Security benefits, to apply for funding, then put that money aside in a bank account for the child or youth in foster care.