Should Counties Stop Taking Benefits From Foster Youth?

Counties across California continue to siphon social security money and survivor’s checks from foster youth and use it to reimburse themselves for the cost of providing care. It’s a legal practice, but one that has increasingly come under fire by child advocates.

A CalMatters investigation reveals counties like Butte, San Diego, and Kern have each taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in SSI and survivor benefits from foster youth. Los Angeles took $5.4 million last year.

“Neither federal nor state law prohibits the offsetting of foster care benefits for youth,” Scott Murray, California Department of Social Services spokesman, told CalMatters. “The county may use those funds for the youth’s daily care and maintenance.” 

The money is being taken from an extremely vulnerable population – about a quarter of whom end up unhoused after exiting the foster care system. For that reason, a number of states and localities have banned the practice, including Maryland and New York City. Similar legislation has been proposed in Nebraska, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Texas.

So far, no such legislation has been introduced in California. Advocates are hoping that will change.

Former foster youth who spoke to CalMatters say the small benefits they were owed could have helped them find a stable place to live or get an education after they turned 18. The money was just a fraction of total foster care costs. But for the kids, it was everything.