A helping hand

Date: 2007-06-03
Source: sfgate.com

A helping hand

June 3, 2007

IT'S TOUGH enough for foster youths to fend for themselves when they "age out" of the system at 18. It's even more difficult for the estimated 15 percent of young adults leaving foster care with significant physical or mental disabilities.

Most of those young adults should qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance, a federal program that provides $856 in monthly support for disabled people with limited income and meager assets.

But a helping hand is worthless if the potential recipients are unaware of it. Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat who has emerged as one of the champions of foster-care concerns in Sacramento, has been pushing legislation that would require county welfare agencies to screen all foster youth at age 16.5 to determine which are eligible for SSI. Her AB1331, which advanced on a 17-0 vote in the Appropriations Committee, now goes to the Assembly floor for a vote this week.

California has a parental obligation to connect these children -- our children, our collective responsibility -- with resources that can help them in the difficult transition to life on their own. It's also a matter of fiscal prudence. Young adults who "age out" of foster care without a family support system are at high risk of being unemployed or becoming homeless -- and that risk is magnified for those with disabilities.

Regrettably, another very sensible Evans bill on foster care -- AB1330, which would have required the state to keep track of psychotropic drugs given to foster youth -- stalled in the Appropriations Committee because of the Schwarzenegger administration's concerns about its cost.

Foster care requires knowing how our children are being medicated and optimizing their odds of succeeding in life. Both AB1330 and AB1331 should be approved.

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Cost seems to be a common problem for CA residents w/low income

While I can understand if a person is prescribed from one up to three medications (some serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder require combination therapy) for a documented diagnosis from a licensed psychiatrist in the state, it is an issue that should be approached with great caution given the potential for harmful side effects and even death that can occur in adults, and children should be regarded with even greater diligence due to the fact that none of these medications have gone through clinical trials for use in children.  There have been several deaths involving military personnel diagnosed with PTSD following their return from deployment, whose health was previously documented at good-excellent levels prior to emergency admission to hospitals where they died from heart failure/stroke or related cardiovascular fatal events. In these cases, the patients had been prescribed more than 4 medications, and at or near the maximum dosage indicated by the pharmaceutical mfgr - and in each of these patients there was at least one medication that was given despite being an "off-label use" - which is when the doctor is prescribing a medication to someone to treat a condition that has not been formally approved by the FDA for such use.

The current waiting period for SSI now averages 1 year before an applicant will receive notice whether they will get to go on to the next phase in the determination process. Most people will apply at least twice before they are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration, and it is estimated that only 60% of all applicants are deemed under the current rules as being substantially disabled and thus eligible to receive SSI benefits - though in some circumstances the reason is because the person's financial resources exceed the limit (currently $2000 for individuals, $3000 for couples). Even those who do receive it have had their monthly benefits reduced to $845 a month for independent individuals living on their own and $659 for individuals living in the household of another or under the age of 18.  The second amount is the maximum federal SSI benefit and does not reflect the State supplement provided to adults living on their own.  SSI recipients in california are not eligible for food stamps because they receive the supplement amount from the state - who has also cut dental for everyone over 21 with few exceptions, slashed what will be covered by medi-cal to the bare minimum - usually equivalent to one annual checkup in cost, and the possibility that there will be yet another reduction in the monthly amount is very real.  In January 2009 SSI benefits were $906, a year later they're down to $845.  The outlook for Californians who depend on these benefits isn't good, yet the state government chooses to ignore their constituents' complaints for the most part.  I know that they are more worried about alienating the ones who are paying taxes in the state, but their job is to do their best to advocate and to help ALL of the people not just some - how many kids will be on the news in connection to the latest abuse/homicide in foster care case?  How many disabled have to become homeless or go without eating for the last half of a month because they can't afford rent and food for 30 days on the amount they're receiving in benefits? 

most of the kids in care

with significant disabilities already get SSI and the check goes to the agency in charge of their care...

so it would just roll over; but I am sure there is a lack of educating the foster children about this; transition to adult life services are poor just about everywhere....

also, if you are a parent with a child with a significant disability such as a mental illness, physical impairment, or mental retardation you can actually get into trouble for just kicking the adult out (just like you can for kicking out an elderly person, like grandma, if she can't care for herself...)  so when agencies do this at age 18, they are being what would be considered if a parent did this, neglectful....

most places services do continue, including special ed and foster care, for kids who have special needs until age 21.... 

once again stuff is out there on the books to catch these kids, but yes many fall through, and no one can live off of that amount of money anyway...

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