In addition, foster children increasingly are becoming the victims of identity theft because their personal information passes through many hands, increasing the chances that someone will open an account in their name or use their Social Security number. Many foster children leave care with ruined credit histories — saddled with defaulted car loans, mortgages and credit cards they never had.
A new report from the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law and First Star, “The Fleecing of Foster Children: How We Confiscate Their Assets and Undermine Their Financial Security,” highlights these counterproductive practices and advocates for federal legislation to protect the 30,000 teenagers a year who age out of foster care.
Two bills in Congress would give these kids a better chance at self-sufficiency.
The Foster Youth Self-Support Act would ensure that states determine if foster kids are eligible for benefits and then use the funds for their needs rather than as a source of revenue. By safeguarding benefits, the state would create a basic safety net for children when they age out of care. The bill also would require agencies to create “Individual Development Accounts” as part of a plan for each child receiving benefits to secure housing, education or job training.
The Foster Youth Financial Security Act would end the use of Social Security numbers as an identifier and require that all foster children have their credit histories cleared of inaccuracies before leaving state care.
In the current budgetary climate, it’s important to note that these bills carry few real costs, and in fact, would result in long-term savings. Yet, the changes will make it much easier for foster kids to get on their feet financially and become productive members of society. States would forgo the miniscule amounts of money they are grabbing from foster kids but recoup the funds many times over when these kids get jobs, pay taxes, and stay out of trouble.
Restoring sanity to a system that trips up kids such as Amber will inject true family values into foster care agencies that need to be reminded whose interests they represent.
Kirsten Lynette Widner is the director of policy and advocacy at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.