Fixing Foster Care In Alaska

By Andrea Gusty

March 6, 2009 / KTVA News

Alaska has one of the worst problems in the nation when it comes to child abuse, domestic violence, and substance abuse. And, unfortunately those problems lead to a lot of Alaskan kids becoming wards of the state.

Right now there are more than 2,000 kids in the state foster system. But once they turn 18. some have no place to turn, and end up back in the state's care, this time behind bars.

The statistics are staggering. Nearly half of all youth in the Alaska Foster Care System end up on the streets at some point in their lives.

"They are at a pivotal point in their life, and they absolutely have the potential to go onto independence and healthy adulthoods," says Lauren Rice with the Covenant House, Alaska, "And they also have the potential to fall if they are not supported."

Some say the State of Alaska is leading those kids up a mountain, and watching them fall off a cliff.

"Here they are in the system growing up, and they have all these supports wrapped around them, they have a social worker, a foster parent and all these people helping them, and they come out of custody and there is no one," says Amanda Metivier, with Facing Foster Care In Alaska.

Now, some are working to give foster children a boost into the real world with House Bill 126 and Senate Bill 105. The legislation would extended custody from 18 to 21, provide college scholarships, and even give out rent money.

"If you cut them off at 18, and send them out on their own, well right now, 40% of them are ending up homeless," says the bill's sponsor Rep. Les Gara, "We have to have some transitional help as kids come out of foster care."

It sounds like an expensive prospect, but proponents of the bill say it will actually save money. $15,000 a year in college tuition is cheaper than $40,000 a year to put someone behind bars.

"Providing them with job training and college assistance, it is going to cost less in the long run, because they are going to become productive members of society," Says Metivier, "They are going to be able to get better paying jobs, and take care of their own family later on, rather than continuing that cycle of depending on the system."

But, with our state facing a budget shortfall, a bill that calls for more programs and more money is already facing a lot of opposition.

"We can find other places to belt tighten." Says Rep. Gara, "This is a place where we have to fix the problem."

The Office of Children's Services says the bills are a good idea- as long as the funding is there. They want to make it very clear that Alaskans can't just rely on the state to fix things. They say the community needs to invest in the success of a young Alaskans, and make sure all succeed.

To read the bills in their entirety, click on the links below:

House Bill 126

Senate Bill 105

To contact Andrea Gusty, call 907-273-3146.


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