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These States Take Money Meant for Foster Children

Our reporting shows that in at least 49 states, plus Washington, D.C., foster care officials obtain federal benefits intended for children in their care.

In collaboration with NPR, The Marshall Project investigated the practice of states collecting federal benefits — including Social Security disability and survivors benefits — meant for foster children in their care. Our reporting shows that at least 49 states and Washington, D.C. take these benefits and put them into state coffers. (Montana did not respond to our requests.)

These benefits are considered the children’s property under federal law. But many state officials we contacted pointed out that it is legal for them to apply to become the financial representative for foster children and obtain the money. They also said that the money helps to reimburse the state for the cost of the children’s care.

If you were ever in foster care, here’s how to find out if the government took benefits owed to you.

Additional reporting provided by Eli Hager, Joseph Shapiro, Jessica Piper, Huo Jingnan and Emine Yücel.

Source: The Marshall Project, NPR, Child Trends survey (2018).

Correction: A previous version of this tool showed breakdowns by Supplemental Security Income, disability benefits and survivor's benefits for several states where that information is ambiguous. The breakdown has been removed from those states.

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David Eads is The Marshall Project's data editor. He has been covering criminal justice issues since co-founding The Invisible Institute in the early 2000s. He was a member of the team of independent journalists who won the 2019 Premio Gabo for reporting on mass graves in Mexico.

Weihua Li is a data reporter at The Marshall Project. She uses data analysis and visualization to tell stories about the criminal justice system. She studied journalism and comparative politics at Boston University and graduated from Columbia University with a master's degree in data journalism.

Michelle Pitcher is a Bay Area-based investigative and audio reporter. Her work for The Marshall Project focuses on data-driven stories about policing and incarceration. Her audio work has been featured on NPR and local stations around the Bay Area. She has previously worked as an intern at The Dallas Morning News and as a researcher at the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.