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Sorry, but DHR is robbing foster children

1:30 PM EDT, October 23, 2013

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I appreciate Maryland Department of Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas' recent response ("DHR is not 'robbing' any children," Oct. 17) to my commentary, "How Maryland robs its most vulnerable children" (Oct 14), and I echo his comment about seeking opportunities for collaboration to improve child welfare. On his defense of taking foster children's Social Security benefits as government revenue, I respectfully disagree. Mr. Dallas' asserts that:

1. Other states take children's assets too. True. But that doesn't make it right.

2. The practice is in agency regulation. True. The agency actually wrote its own regulation to take not only children's Social Security benefits, but all of the child's resources including assets, insurance, trust accounts and the child's own earnings. Everything. I think that's bad policy.

3. "Every dime goes to helping that child." Not true. Children see zero benefit when the agency takes their funds to reimburse costs for services the state is already federally required to provide — and for which children have no debt obligation. The MAXIMUS contract makes the goal clear: "revenue enhancement" for the state.

4. The practice wasn't done in secret. Not true. For years, the agency has applied for and taken the benefits of disabled and orphaned children with no notice to the children or their lawyers. The agency fiercely argued in court against giving notice, even arguing a boy's claim was time-barred for not filing within one year after the state began taking his funds although he was a child without notice.

5. The Supreme Court validated the practice. Also not accurate. The court only addressed whether federal law banning attachment of benefits by creditors applies to this practice and concluded no — that states aren't creditors of foster children because no law "provides that [children] are liable to repay the department for the costs of their care…" The court recognized that several legal concerns remain undecided — including breach of fiduciary duty and constitutional violations.

6. The agency is striving to improve services. I agree, and the agency needs more funding. However, it's not good policy for the state or agency to seek revenue by taking assets from abused and neglected children.

In fairness to Mr. Dallas, he didn't start this practice. He inherited it. But he could stop it immediately. Rather than defending and expanding the practice of taking foster children's funds, he could take the lead in doing what's right for children.

Daniel L. Hatcher, Baltimore

The writer is a professor of law in the University of Baltimore's Civil Advocacy Clinic.