Millions of dollars taken from children in Massachusetts. Investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan found some call a secret system. Who is getting their money, and why? 7 Investigates.
Landon’s life was sad as any little life could be. When he was a baby he was put in foster care with his Auntie Kristen. Then when he was two years old he lost his single mother to a drug overdose.
“It breaks my heart,” Kristen told 7 News.
Then Kristen learned something else that would change their lives: Because Landon was in foster care, he’d also lose his survivor benefits: Thousands of dollars he was entitled to because his mom worked and paid into Social Security.
“It makes me so angry,” Kristen said.
The family had hoped to save the money for Landon’s future, but who was actually taking those thousands? The State of Massachusetts.
“And who would get that money,” Investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan asked.
“They would,” Kristen replied.
“Not your nephew,” Hank asked.
“No,” Kristen said.
Foster kids, the ones who’ve lost their parents, and lost their homes, and are sometimes sent to live with strangers. We found the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families is taking millions of dollars from them.
“It just baffles my mind,” Kristen said.
But DCF officials confirmed it. No one would go on camera, but they told us as legal guardians of the foster kids, they can legally take 90 percent of their Social Security Survivor Benefits to reimburse the Commonwealth’s general fund for their care.
That’s even though Mass law requires the state to pay for the care of foster kids. And does not require kids to pay the state back.
Attorneys fighting for change say taking the money hurts those unfortunate kids even more.
“Their sole reason for existing is to serve and protect abused and neglected children is instead using those children as a source of revenue to go after their money and take it from them. And in my mind it’s theft,” Attorney Daniel Hatcher told 7 News.
How much is the state taking from these foster kids? We found in the last three years alone DCF kept 5.6 million. And every time the state takes guardianship of a new child the state can take their benefits, too.
It was only when Kristen was finally named Landon’s legal guardian, two years after his mom died, the benefits started going to him. Now, finally, future checks will go into his savings account.
“There’s got to be another way, not taking from these children as the answer. It’s not the answer,” Kristen said.
Though other states do this too, Maryland recently limited the amount of benefits a child can lose. And in Congress, there’s now a bill in the works requiring all the money be held for the children until they’re adults.
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