Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2009


This Article is the third in a series addressing the conflict between state revenue maximization strategies and the missions of state agencies serving low-income children. The Article examines the policy of foster care cost recovery through child support enforcement. When children are removed from poor families and placed in foster care, federal law requires child welfare agencies to initiate child support obligations against the parents. Resulting payments do not benefit the children but are converted into a government funding stream to reimburse the costs of foster care. This cost recovery effort often subordinates the child welfare system’s primary goals of protecting the interests of children and simultaneously strengthening and preserving families to the bureaucratic focus on replenishing government revenue. No such federal cost recovery requirement exists when children are removed from well off families. The policy targets parents whose children were often removed due to the circumstances of poverty, and the neglect that results. Already impoverished parents are further burdened by government owed child support obligations, hampering their struggle to reunify with their children. Federally required case plans intended to aid reunification are illegally converted into debt collection tools. And as the reunification efforts falter, an unconstitutional practice emerges: terminating parental rights for a government-owed debt. This Article reveals the framework and policy implications, and uncovers the illegality, when the core missions of child welfare agencies are diverted towards a self-interested fiscal pursuit.



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