NPR has done an in-depth investigative series exposing a child-welfare money-making scheme that targets children receiving Social Security benefits for the enrichment of social services. This is a pattern that I’ve seen repeat during my years investigating CPS/DSS and other child-welfare offices around the country.
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 state 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.
Some states also take veterans’ benefits from children with a parent who died in the military, though this has become less common as casualties have declined since the Iraq War.
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.
Not only do they target children who are receiving benefits but in some of the cases I’ve covered, the employees of the county encouraged the parent to sign up for the benefits while pretending to “help” the family. Once the benefits are secured, the child welfare agency takes the children—and the Social Security checks—with trumped-up charges like “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” or nebulous charges of “neglect.”
This exact scenario happened to a mom in Colorado who must remain anonymous because of pending litigation. She is still fighting for the return of her child two years after he was taken. Before social services took her child, a community center run by the county, Developmental Pathways, said they wanted to help her with her son’s disabilities, including helping her file for benefits. Shortly after the benefits started coming in, social services showed up and took her child claiming that she was “exaggerating” his medical condition. She hasn’t seen him, or his benefits, since.
Another anonymous mom in Missouri is suffering the same fate. It began when she and her husband were arrested for suspected drug activity. Police held them for 24 hours and then released them. Mom tested negative for all drugs except marijuana, for which she has a medical license. Charges were never filed. Her four-year-old son was evaluated at the hospital and released to his grandfather the same night. A few days later, social services claimed the child tested positive for meth. The doctor’s notes provided to PJ Media say that “his exam and x-rays and labs were reassuring…he is safe to go home with his grandfather at this time.”
The mother suspects that the labs at the hospital, including the rapid urine test, were negative. Otherwise, the doctor would have noted it on the report. The hospital refused to release those records to the mother. The test results that came back from a third-party testing site said the child was positive for meth, contradicting the doctor’s notes from the hospital. The child was also receiving Social Security benefits for autism. He was taken from his parents in January and his check stopped coming to their house in March. Social Security will not tell the parents where his check is being sent now.
NPR reported that third-party private companies are being paid big bucks by the state to identify children the states can target for profit.
In a status report submitted to Florida in 2012, another firm called Public Consulting Group Inc. discussed using data-mining techniques and predictive analytics to more efficiently “target” and “score” children in order to maximize Social Security dollars. And a PCG proposal submitted in 2018 to Delaware said the company has made millions for child welfare agencies — which it referred to as “customers” — by applying for benefits for children with physical and emotional disabilities.
Stephen P. Skinner, spokesperson for Public Consulting Group, said in a statement that obtaining kids’ Social Security dollars is a service requested by the state agencies and is consistent with federal regulations. How children’s money is spent is the responsibility of each state, he said, not the company.
NPR reported that child welfare has seized hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security payments from foster children—$165 million in 2018 alone. Foster care agencies claim that they use the money to pay for the children’s care.
To youth advocates, the fact that many agencies spend children’s money on children’s services doesn’t make it better. That means kids are being made to pay for their own foster care — a public service that federal law and laws in all 50 states require the government to pay for.
“It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland. “This is like confiscating someone’s Social Security benefits because they availed themselves of the fire department.”
As a state senator, Raskin introduced what appears to be the nation’s only law that curbs the practice, by requiring that the state save foster teens’ money for them. The measure passed in 2018.
Currently, kids who age out of foster care are being told that the money the state had provided for them was spent and they are left with nothing. Many of the children become homeless or victims of sex trafficking after being released from foster care. According to the U.S. State Department, “In the United States, traffickers prey upon children in the foster care system. Recent reports have consistently indicated that a large number of victims of child sex trafficking were at one time in the foster care system.”
These children, who are in the care of our government, are some of the most abused victims in the country and the veil is finally being lifted on why. Follow the money.
For more on child welfare and family court corruption, follow the investigative series PJ Media has compiled here.