10 October 2011

Foster Kids Frequent Identity Theft Victims

About 10%-30% of foster kids are victims of identity theft, compared to 4% of the general adult population. Often, they discover this only when they become adults and have no family resources to assist them in dealing with the issue. Colorado is among the states that has been a leader in addressing the problem, with mandatory credit checks for foster kids before their are emancipated, and on September 30, President Obama signed a law that will help the rest of the nation catch up. But, this is just one more in a litany of episode that seem to indicate that the entire foster care system is deeply flawed.

Abuse, including sexual abuse, of foster children is widespread. Many foster kids crash and burn upon reaching adulthood, since as the recent case of a teenage Denver girl who spiraled downhill and ended up homeless and dead in a park not long after leaving the system. These kids aren't being given a decent change at the financial support that they need to pursue further education.

Of course, the failures of the foster care system are not necessarily an endorsement of the orphanage system that it replaced. Foster kids who commit juvenile crime also seem to do better with trained foster parents than in juvenile lockups. One possibility might be to reduce the need for foster care by giving families more economic resources before they fall apart, since child neglect is also the handmaiden of poverty in the United States.

Almost by definition, foster children have, on average, had parents who weren't able to function and early childhoods that featured abuse or neglect. So, this is not a group of children who had great life prospects in the best of times. But, we could hope for a system that does not harm and provides more support to a group of highly at risk children than we would to children who have had upbringings unlikely to include neglect or abuse, unlikely to include totally dysfunctional parents, and likely to involve a continuing source of parental support in an era when most young adults don't leave the family home or cease to receive economic support from family for years after turning eighteen.

Shouldn't kids who were screwed over badly at least once, and deprived of their parents by state action in most cases, be entitled to an extra break, rather than held to strict libertarian standards of total self-sufficiency from the moment that they become adults?

Care for foster children makes up a trivial share of the total welfare system cost, yet they are among the most blameless for their own plights, so a more generous approach might be appropriate.

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