Digging a Bit Deeper on This


You may have noticed that over the weekend I flagged this odd, possibly disturbing news that one of the top Oregon militants, spokesman LaVoy Finicum, is mad that Arizona child protective services has removed four foster children (all adolescent boys) from his custody back at his ranch in Arizona. The removal is apparently tied to the stand-off because the timing coincides. But there’s no direct evidence of that and no comments from the state authorities. Two things jumped out at me: first, you’re not supposed to live off your foster kids, certainly not as your sole source of income, as Finicum himself suggests they are. Second, something I didn’t mention in my initial post: is Finicum using these boys – seemingly between four and as many as eight or more at a time – for free labor on the ranch? There is no evidence that this is happening and Finicum has a large family of his own which presumably does a lot of work on his ranch.

The additional hook here, of course, is an almost felonious level of irony. The majority of subsidies for caring for foster children comes ultimately from the Social Security administration, with the rest chipped in by state and local governments. So LaVoy Finicum, top Freedomer and radical individualist actually lives off federal government subsidies. But what about the kids in his care? Here are two emails I got following up on my weekend post.

The first I’ll publish without initials and with some possible identifying details removed …

Just some quick comments on the fostering situation for the Oregon standoff guy. I have been a foster parent for a couple of years (the last one as a single parent). I am in the process of adopting a little boy that has been in my home for almost two years. I am doing this through the foster system in Washington state, but I am familiar with federal funding, particularly through Social Security and Medicaid (redacted: mention of place of employment).

All of the states utilize federal funding in the support of their foster care programs. The money originates with Social Security and Medicaid programs. I believe the 50 states average somewhere around 50% of the funding for their foster care programs originating from the federal government. Some states receive as high as in the upper 70’s regarding the percentage of federal funds in the system. I do not know what Arizona’s system is, but it is likely a significant portion.

So…the monthly subsidies Finicium received for fostering the children was actually federal money, or significantly so (in WA the adoption subsidy, if one is received, is entirely from Social Security funds). Seems quite an odd situation for someone so opposed to the federal government’s intrusion into our lives to receive the bulk of his income from federal subsidies.

Also, on your point regarding fostering as the primary (or even sole) source of income, I can’t speak to Arizona’s policies, but I can comment on similar policies in Washington state. Here, you are not allowed to foster children unless you can demonstrate to the state during the licensing process that you can support the child(ren) without any support from the state. In other words, you need to have a livable source of income before taking in a child. And you are required to inform the state licenser if there is any change in your income status while a foster parent. The state does provide significant support, but you need to show you can do it regardless. This is to prevent just such situations as Finicum seems to have had: the family living off the resources provided for the children. That said, I have met a number of families, even here in WA, that lived off the subsides and benefits of fostering children. It goes back to your comments about the difficulty of identifying and maintaining a pool of foster homes to meet the needs of the state. But even looking the other way in such situations, the state is still usually short of the necessary foster homes for the number of children in the system.

Thanks for the great coverage of the Oregon standoff, as well as the usual outstanding work you all do.

As I noted in my first post, we cannot rule out the possibility that the Finicums are dedicated to helping your children. There’s certainly no shortage of foster children – particularly adolescent boys, often with different levels of trauma, behavior problems and other issues – who need help. And maybe that’s just what they’re doing. But I could not help notice that not only did Finicum mention that they accounted for near or all his income (the ranch makes no money), but he talked about it as an attack on his bottom line. Said Finicum: “That was my main source of income. My ranch, well, the cows just cover the costs of the ranch. If this means rice and beans for the next few years, so be it. We’re going to stay the course.”

The second issue is, what are the boys doing on the ranch? There are certainly programs, which may well be effective, where you take troubled boys out to a ranch or a farm and sort of work the trouble out of them. I don’t know how effective that sort of thing is. But obviously exists. And maybe, if done in a therapeutic and not exploitative way, it can be a good thing. But here’s the letter we got from TPM Reader MA

I may be way off base, but when I read the story about the 4 foster children, all boys, taken away from the Arizona rancher participating in the Oregon standoff I immediately thought of my best friend’s son and his childhood best friend; a foster child living with a farm family who basically used him, from the age of 10 through most of his adolescence, when he rebelled, as unpaid, hired help. Ranching and farming are labor intensive. Young adolescents who you get paid to care for, while they provide valuable labor, is a pretty good deal. My much younger son and my friend’s younger children, played together. As our children were growing up, I had several opportunities to see and interact a little with this young man. He was always so sad, and harried — nothing was allowed to take priority over his extensive list of chores. Not even school work. He shared a passion for fishing with my friend’s son, and with what little time he had free, that was what they would do.

I genuinely hope the boys in this case haven’t been exploited in the same way.

I will emphasize one more time: I have no direct knowledge of the circumstances with the Finicums. Nor do these emailers. Caring for foster children is truly God’s work when done right and for the right reasons, particularly with children who are the most difficult to place. But there are several aspects of this story that sound very fishy, not least of which is Finicum’s raising this as an attack on his livelihood rather than concern for the kids. Again, making most or all your income off your foster kids is at best a problematic state of affairs.