Child Welfare Ideas From the Experts, #8: Unfettered Access to Birth, Health, Identification Documents

Photo_Dominique_FYI2014
Dominique Freeman, 23, Foster Youth Intern for Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.)

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 11 former foster youths who completed Congressional internships. The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today, we highlight the recommendation of Dominique Freeman, 23, a California native and current undergraduate student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The Proposal

Amend the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) – a pending piece of legislation with strong potential to pass in the fall – to require that states guarantee access to the following items for foster youths:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Health insurance information and medical records
  • Driver’s license or equivalent state-issued identification

Freeman also proposes that states be required to create an electronic database to store information and pertinent documents about foster children.

The Argument

A two-year study by Casey Family Programs found that of foster youths who age out of the system, approximately half did not have access to their birth certificate, social security care and driver’s license.

The lack of critical personal records can make life difficult in any number of ways for foster youths and former foster youths. One area is health care, where a 2014 study found that lack of medical documents for foster youth can lead to “over-immunization, over-prescription and misdiagnosis.”

From a 2005 report by the Children’s Action Network: “Doctors often have no reliable birth or immunization records, don’t know who has previously treated the child, and have no facts about current and past diagnoses, treatments, or prescriptions.”

Freeman notes that some states, including Texas and California, have developed database infrastructure aimed at centralizing and storing information about its foster youth.

In Her Own Words

“I was born to drug-addicted parents in a Los Angeles crack house. Abandoned at the hospital, I was known as ‘Baby Girl,’ and my actual date of birth was unknown.

It wasn’t until I had emancipated from the foster care system and was in the process of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form that I realized that not only did I not have access to my birth certificate, I was actually never issued one.

The bureaucracy that ensued lasted over a year and included reopening my case as a foster youth to confirm my existence. All the while, I was a homeless teenager living in a shelter.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Freeman’s main proposal actually boils down to an expansion of language that already exists in H.R. 4980. The bill would require states to provide all of the documents Freeman refers to here, but only at age 18 or older. She proposed expanding that guarantee to any foster youth who sought access to their records, at any age.

Her argument is compelling, considering her own history. She or her caregivers could have figured out early on that she didn’t have documents that she’d one day need for college loans. So why have a documentation policy aimed at discovering documentation problems after the college application process or adolescent health concerns?

There is still time to make that change happen, as it turns out. H.R. 4980 passed by voice vote in the House, but an attempt to fast-track the bill failed in the Senate, so it will have to wait for a vote in September or later.

As for the state database concept: it’s hard to see the feds putting that on states as an unfunded mandate all at once. We could see this as a demonstration program, with one of the pioneer states serving as a technical assistance provider for other states that wanted to join the bandwagon.

Click here to read Freeman’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

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2 Comments

  1. Birth certificates should be given to adoptees as well as foster youth. No one should be denied the truthful documentation of their birth.

  2. Wow, had this girl robbed, killed, or defrauded someone? The system would know EVERYTHING there is to know about her! But for college, nope..

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