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NEW YORK, NY—Children’s Rights, together with other national children’s advocacy organizations, has joined an Amicus Brief supporting plaintiffs in a case before the Alaska Supreme Court. The case involves Alaska’s practice of applying for and seizing the Social Security benefits of eligible older youth in foster care without notifying them or giving them the opportunity to select a family member or trusted adult to receive the funds on their behalf. These funds are a critical resource to pay for basic needs while in the system and after they age out to cover the costs of basic needs such as housing, food, and education.
In 2021, reports emerged that state agencies tasked with caring for foster youth in Alaska, and in 36 other states, have taken away millions of dollars in Social Security benefits from children receiving them due to a physical or mental disability or because their parents are deceased. Investigations have uncovered that foster care agencies in these states would review case files to identify foster youth who would be eligible for Social Security benefits, and then apply for and take those benefits, often without notifying children.
“It is immoral and illegal for Alaska government agencies to effectively steal funds from children who need access to Social Security benefits to survive,” said Ira Lustbader, Chief Program Officer at Children’s Rights. “As older children age out of the foster system, they desperately need these funds to pay for food, shelter, and school. The stealing of these critical funds from children who desperately need them not only to survive, but to also thrive, is deeply disturbing and a total abdication of responsibility by officials tasked with protecting kids.”
Children eligible for these benefits typically receive more than $700 per month – a 2018 report found that state foster care agencies had collected more than $165 million from these children, who make up 10% of foster youth, nationally.
In addition to Children’s Rights, the amicus brief was filed by Facing Foster Care in Alaska, Children’s Advocacy Institute, Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus on Children, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, Gen Justice, Juvenile Law Center, National Association of Counsel for Children, National Center for Youth Law, Partnership for America’s Children and Professor Daniel L. Hatcher. Named in the suit were the State of Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services and the Office of Children’s Services.
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Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.