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Congresswoman Karen Bass

Representing the 37th District of California

Columbia Daily Tribune: Foster care forum highlights barriers to effective programs

July 8, 2014
In The News

A bureaucratic debate over sentence construction is denying health care to young adults who were once in foster care, a round table on child welfare learned Monday.

U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and Karen Bass, D-Calif., were joined by advocates and state officials for the lunchtime meeting in the Boone County Commission chambers. They learned that former foster children who cross state lines to attend college or take a job lose their health care coverage under Medicaid.

Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, parents may keep children up to age 26 on family health insurance plans. Foster children are covered by Medicaid, which must cover those children up to age 26 as well. The question is whether the law was intended to be state-specific, requiring coverage for a ward of “the state,” or general, extending coverage to children who were a ward of “a state.”

“Isn’t that crazy?” Bass said in an interview after the event. “It has led to kids not getting health care, because somebody in some office somewhere that was disconnected from the planet said it was one word versus another.”

The round-table discussion, sponsored by the National Foster Youth Institute and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, featured personal stories from former foster children as well as a discussion of barriers to effective programs.

Along with the health insurance issue, Hartzler and Bass learned that federal aid only pays for foster programs after a child is removed from their home.

“It would be helpful if dollars for foster children could be used for preventive programs prior to placement, but right now they are prevented from doing that,” Hartzler said. “They were pointing out it was a lot more cost-beneficial for the taxpayer if we can prevent somebody from going into the foster care system.”

Bass and Hartzler said they would work to add flexibility to both the Medicaid rules and federal aid for child welfare programs.

For children in foster care, communication that tells them what is expected of them and what they can expect is important, said Laura Gray, 18, a member of the State Youth Advisory Board. Gray said she was placed in foster care at age 5 and adopted while in the third grade. The adoption, for a reason she did not reveal, fell through, and she returned to foster care.

Gray said she was adopted again at 16 but said she wasn’t always sure what her status was and what to expect.

“The one thing I would work on if I was in charge would be communication,” she said. “I had a wonderful family support team but my worker and I didn’t always communicate very well.”

Missouri has approximately 12,500 children in foster care, said Tim Decker, director of the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services. The top goal of the division is to keep families together, he said.

When a child is removed from a home, the division first attempts to solve the issues that make the home unsafe and reunify the family, Decker said. When that is impossible, the division looks for a way to place a child with adoptive parents or a permanent guardian.

There are 1,400 children in the “Heart Gallery of Missouri,” an online service that seeks to connect children needing permanent homes with prospective parents.

The division is always in need of families who will take children in need of a stable home, Decker said.

This article was originally published by the Columbia Daily Tribune.