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05/25/2006 Leaving Children Behind: Some States Failing in Foster Care



Thursday, May 25, 2006

Valuing-Families

Helping Kids in State Foster Care Programs

As a new profile in Stateline.org details, states are struggling to provide foster care for neglected and abandoned children, increasingly turning to grandparents and other relatives to care for them. 4 million children now live with relatives other than their parents.

Making matters worse, Congress slashed funding for foster care by $580 million and passed regulations making it tougher for states to provide aid to grandparents willing to help foster their grandkids.

States have had to respond with innovative programs to provide financial assistance themselves. Last year, 18 states expanded their kinship care programs and others may soon follow. The best programs include "subsidized guardianship programs", where relatives receive the same level of financial support as when foster children are placed with strangers. Illinois is considered a model, placing thousands of children with relatives where only a tiny percentage were returned to state custody. Thirty-two other states have similar programs.

However, even as some states are encouraging greater support to encourage the fostering of neglected kids, some other states have created foster care and adoption systems so abusive as to violate the constitutional rights of the children left to rot in them.

  • Mississippi is currently facing a lawsuit on behalf of 3,000 children in a system that fails to place them in family foster care settings, repeatedly leaves them in harmful situations, and routinely leavs them without health care treatment while in state custody.
  • Similarly, Nebraska is facing a a lawsuit on behalf of 6000 abused and neglected children who have been left to languish in inadequately-funded foster care without the opportunity for a permanent home.
  • Last year, Missouri, led by Gov. Matt Blunt, ended subsidies to families willing to adopt hard-to-place abused children with disabilities, a short-sighted plan that would have cost the state more money in the long-term as families would be unable to adopt such children at all. Fortuitously, a federal judge found that the law violated federal law and the US constitution and struck it down.

Any politician that claims to be "pro-family" should be ashamed of the treatment of children in foster care systems in many states in our country. But thankfully, at least some states are investing the money to place children in long-term homes, whether with other relatives or families willing to permanently adopt them.

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Strengthening-Communities

Defining Down Decent Health Care

Some politicians have a simple way to deal with the challenge of providing health care to the uninsured: cut the funding for those currently receiving care and deliver half-rate care to more people. West Virgina and Kentucky legislatures both voted recently to cut benefits for existing Medicaid recipients, taking advantage of a new federal law that allows states to selectively cut benefits for different populations.

This is a variation on plans like Arkansas', which is using federal Medicaid funds to offer a cut-rate health plan to employers with less than 50 employees that provides a few doctors visits each year, but no catastrophic protection for serious illness. Florida and Utah are also using federal waivers to cut benefits for existing Medicaid recipients.

While states are under budgetary pressure due to rising health care costs, it's shocking that they are funding these deficts at the expense of their poorest citizens, rather than asking low-wage employers like Wal-Mart to pay their fair share or reining in high prescription drug prices by negotiating better deals from the large pharmaceutical companies. The wrong answer is to "solve" the health care crisis by defining down acceptable health coverage to mean cut-rate plans for poor and working families.

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Rewarding-Work

US: Young Workers Left Behind, Uninsured

Young Americans, leaving their parents house and entering the workforce, are increasingly likely to lack health insurance according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund. As reported by the Associated Press, "40 percent of the 6 million people who joined the ranks of the uninsured from 2000 to 2004" were between the ages of 19 and 29, despite only comprising 17 percent of the population.

Washington, D.C., recently contemplated false reform to solve the problem of the uninsured. But the bills considered by the conservative Congress would only have exacerbated the situation. Luckily, as we'll see, states are taking the lead in finding real solutions to America's health care crisis.

The high uninsured rates among America's twenty-somethings should not be surprising. Young workers are less likely than their older counterparts to be offered insurance by their employers. And of those workers offered insurance, fewer are likely to purchase it. Why do they not pay for coverage? Because paying for health insurance means not paying for clothes or food.

As Progressive States Policy Director Nathan Newman explained recently, we now live in a country that would rather import professionals than pay to train them domestically -- a policy decision that has major consequences at home and abroad. The refusal to invest in accessible college educations leaves students weighed down with debt.

And the options for those who choose to not attend school are no better. As Change to Win has pointed out, wages for typical workers have stagnated while CEO pay skyrockets. Even worse, one time friends of workers like George McGovern are now dedicating time and energy into making the arguments of union busters.

Time is unlikely to solve these problems. New economic research shows that initial wage levels and benefit packages have a long-term impact on worker pay. Individuals who start their careers making little money and not receiving health insurance are likely to remain in that condition for some time.

The end result of this mix of policies is increased costs on government. Companies that shirk health care costs drive more workers into taxpayer-financed programs. And workers without health insurance still end up in emergency rooms, where costs are most often shifted to other workers.

Fortunately, states are weighing options to fix these issues. As reported by USA Today, Assemblyman Neil Cohen (pictured left) led New Jersey to allow young adults access to health insurance through their parents' plans up to the age of 30. Other states have passed similar, albeit narrower, bills. And still others are considering following on and expanding Maryland's example to level the playing field and make large employers pay their fair share.

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Research-Roundup

State Venture Capital Funds, Small Business has Positive Attitude About the Minimum Wage, and How Citizen Children of Immigrants are Hurt by Demagoguery

Venture Funds: State equity funds in 44 states are providing $5.8 billion to promote job growth in the states, according to the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds' State Venture Capital Study. They also break down investments by state.

Venture Funds: Another study by Pacific Community Ventures lays out some steps to better measure the social returns from venture capital funds concentrating on investments in low- and moderate-income communities.

Small Business and the Minimum Wage: A new Wells Fargo-Gallup Small Business Index poll, finds that small-business owners are far more supportive of raising the minimum wage than rightwing propaganda would suggest. According to the poll, forty-six percent of small-business owners say they believe the minimum wage should be increased while only 34% believe it should remain where it is now.

Children of Immigrants: The Urban Institute has released a fact sheet on the 5 million children of undocumented immigrants, two-third of whom are American-born and therefore citizens, who would be strongly impacted by federal and state policy proposals. Many don't receive adequate health care or education because their parents are afraid to apply for help.

Helping Kids in State Foster Care Programs

Childrens Rights Inc
Casey Family Programs
Child Welfare League
Other organizations

Defining Down Decent Health Care

Kaiser Family Foundation
UC-Berkeley Labor Center, Declining Job-Base Health Coverage for Working Families in California and the United States
Families USA, Medicaid and Children's Health

US: Young Workers Left Behind, Uninsured

Commonwealth Fund, Rite of Passage? Why Young Adults Become Uninsured and How New Policies Can Help
NJ Assembly, A3759
Progressive States Network, LegAlert: Fair Share Health Care

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Strengthening-Communities

Defining Down Decent Health Care

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Eye on the Right

Fort Lauderdale, like many resort areas, has a housing problem. So when local citizens started a push for a new affordable housing law, you might expect a little understanding from local government. But don't look to the Mayor. His response? "I'm supposed to subsidize some schlock sitting on the sofa and drinking beer, who won't work more than 40 hours a week?" He also gracefully compared the bill to the Communist Manifesto.

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Please shoot me an email at msinger@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch