Thursday, March 17, 2011

Letting kids in foster care keep their own money: Is CWLA softening its opposition?

            The world of child welfare is filled with ugly little side streets and dark alleys – practices that may not affect huge numbers of children, relatively speaking, but which add insult to the injuries endured by some of the children already harmed by the foster care system.

            One of those dark alleys involves a practice that seems hard to believe: There are about 30,000 foster children eligible for some form of Social Security, usually disability of survivors benefits.  But, as is explained in this previous post, child welfare agencies typically swoop in and grab the money for themselves, so they can keep funding their foster care systems.  As I said last year, it’s worse than stealing candy from a baby.  But it’s perfectly legal.

            Up to now, the giant trade association for child welfare agencies, the Child Welfare League of America, has wanted to keep it that way.  After all, why should foster children get their own money when it can go to one of those oh-so-worthy CWLA member agencies instead?  So when Rep. Pete Stark (D-California) first introduced legislation to ban this practice, CWLA opposed it.  So did the Children’s Defense Fund, which has no interest in defending foster children against having their own money taken from them.  CDF is far more concerned that somewhere, somehow there might be a child welfare agency that has a little less money to use to throw children into foster care.

            That greedy stance is all the more amazing since while this money can make a huge difference to the individual foster children, it represents well under one percent of what government spends on child welfare every year.  That’s just one reason CDF really should change its slogan to “no dollar left behind.”

            Rep. Stark announced yesterday he is again introducing legislation to ban this practice. And judging by what longtime CWLA official Linda Spears told the Associated Press, they just might be modifying their position.  Said Spears:

            “In tough economic times, the states are between a rock and a hard place — they can’t afford services beyond the basic necessities. But the young person is there saying, ‘What about me?’ ... There’s so much in foster care that makes young people feel they’re not in charge of their lives, and that could be changed to give kids more say.”

            This is rather like saying “On the one hand you were mugged.  On the other hand, the mugger said he really needed the money.”  And it’s disingenuous since CWLA condoned this practice before the recession hit.  In fact, I’ve never known them to oppose this practice, no matter what the state of the economy,

            Still by CWLA standards, this may be progress.  Or it may be a calculation that the bill won’t pass, and they can remain neutral while still being sure the foster children won’t see their own money.

            Meanwhile Prof. Daniel Hatcher of the University of Baltimore continues to pursue his lawsuit challenging the practice in Maryland.  This greatly upset Judith Schagrin, assistant director for children’s services with the Baltimore County social services department.  She told AP that “States are not in fact maliciously stealing children’s money.”

            We didn’t say it was malicious.