WHAT’S THE STORY: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens declared last month that the state no longer would require foster children to pay for copies of their birth certificates.
WHY IT MATTERS: The document is important – and not always readily available – for foster children who are trying to get a driver’s license or job, or eventually an apartment.
Advocates of foster children in Missouri say a simple decree a last month from the governor's office can pay big dividends in the long run.
Gov. Eric Greitens announced Oct. 20 that, effective immediately, the state would be waiving the $15 fee foster children in Missouri have paid to obtain copies of their birth certificates. The change, Greitens said in a statement, is designed to make it easier for teenagers in foster care to get the records they need as they apply for a driver's license and jobs.
Lori Ross, president and CEO of Independence-based FosterAdopt Connect and a foster parent herself many times over, said the move is a “great idea” and takes down a major barrier for foster children who are aging out of the system.
“There are lots of little glitches in state bureaucracy that create what seems like a small barrier for us, but is much more significant for foster children,” Ross said. In addition to a job and driver's license, the birth certificate can also be necessary to rent that first apartment, she added.
“In general, those of us who are involved feel like this is a positive decision, to reduce this barrier,” she said.
Ross said that when a child enters foster care and the state becomes the parent, the child's case manager is required to request a copy of the birth certificate. Due in part to employee turnover, sometimes that copy can get lost in the shuffle or not passed on to a child aging out of the system.
In her own experiences with foster children or young adults, Ross can recall numerous times when one needed a birth certificate and she or her husband purchased one, sometimes even to replace something lost.
“I don't charge my kids,” she said. “But people who are 18 are still kids, and even in the best circumstances they can screw up, especially when they grow up with the trauma many of them have had.”
Nathan Ross, youth advocacy director, said former parents should be able to provide a birth certificate copy for children who enter foster care, but there are circumstances where that doesn't happen.
He said FosterAdopt has dealt with about 100 young adults in the greater Kansas City area in the last 18 months who needed birth certificates. For the time being, even in the weeks after Greitens' declaration, FosterAdopt can pay for a needed certificate until it can figure out exactly how a non-state agency can get a free copy.
“We're fortunate that we have a little bit of money we can use,” Nathan Ross said. “It's faster (to pay) than to go through the hoops and red tape, until we know exactly what this looks like.
“It's not a huge expense, but it does add up, and it is (huge) for young adults. Every dollar when they're aging out of care helps.”
Nathan Ross, a former foster child himself, said he didn't realize growing up that birth certificates could be an issue.
“I was very fortunate that I was adopted when I was a young teen,” he said. “My parents had it.”
A Greitens spokesperson says costs to the state by waiving the fee for foster children would be minimal but didn't provide an estimated price tag.