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Department of Children and Families ends diversion of federal benefits for foster children in Mass.

 The Massachusetts State House.
Henry Epp

Massachusetts' child welfare agency will stop diverting federal funds intended for foster children.

Children who were due to receive survivors benefits or disability payments instead had that money taken by the state to help cover the cost of their own care. The Department of Children and Families estimated that totaled $5.5 million a year covering 600 children.

That practice ended at the start of this year.

But now, those in foster care will have the money saved on their behalf, and they can access it when they return home or leave the child welfare system. Those receiving survivor’s benefits can apply to receive the money from the Social Security Administration when they exit foster care. Disability benefit recipients will have the money put into accounts set up by the state and managed by a private company.

Rachel Gwaltney is the executive director of the Children's League of Massachusetts, an advocacy group. She said these funds will be quite useful.

"They have funds available for everything that a young person needs when they graduate [into] adulthood," she said. "Whether that's getting that first apartment or car so they can get to work or school."

Commenting on the change in policy, a DCF spokesperson said in a statement:

“We know how important it can be for children and youth to be able to save for their future and the Department of Children and Families is grateful for support from advocates and the legislature that has enabled Massachusetts to be among the first states that are early adopters to this practice that allows for all social security benefits to be conserved for children and youth. This is a relatively new practice in child welfare, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of implementing this initiative.”

While the state agency made the change on its own, there's pending legislation on Beacon Hill to make it permanent. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D- Northampton, is a sponsor of the bill. She said she’s pleased DCF made the changes, but she wants to ensure against a change of heart someday.

"My goal is to advance this permanently so that young people in Massachusetts, if they are receiving these federal benefits, can count on these federal benefits to help them as they enter adulthood," she said.

Comerford said there was a good deal of advocacy which was pushing DCF to make the change.

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