House Bill 151 Adopts Gold Standard Reforms to Improve Alaska’s Foster Care System
Juneau – Today, the Alaska Legislature passed comprehensive legislation sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) to improve Alaska’s foster care system. House Bill 151 establishes new training and workload standards for caseworkers in the Office of Children’s Services. Lower caseload levels are widely recognized to lead to better health and outcomes for children and families. HB 151 has broad support from children’s advocacy groups and adopts major, comprehensive national best practice standards. The bill passed the Alaska State Senate Wednesday by a unanimous 18-0 vote. The bill was co-sponsored by 18 members of the Senate.
“OCS caseworkers ensure Alaska’s most vulnerable children are safe from maltreatment. It is difficult for these caseworkers to respond to families’ needs in a timely manner when they are juggling up to 40 cases at once,” said Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson. “Thanks to the leadership of Representative Gara, this bill will ensure our OCS caseworkers have the training and support they need to keep Alaska’s children safe.”
“The experience we want is not 50 percent of youth ending up homeless at some point after foster care, or 26 percent experiencing jail. These are among the things this bill will change,” said Rep. Gara. “By passing this bill today, the Alaska Legislature recognized that by implementing smart policy changes and investing some resources we could make significant and long-lasting positive change in the lives of youth that often feel as if they are alone and unwanted. I appreciate the level of compassion shown by so many members regardless of party. I especially want to thank Senators Anna MacKinnon and John Coghill for their hard work over the past few months. I also must thank Rep. Spohnholz for her exceptional support as well and of course too many other supporters to name.”
HB 151, The Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, would fix many of the most glaring problems with Alaska’s foster care system. The bill mandates six weeks of training for new caseworkers and puts caseload limits on new caseworkers. Additionally, the bill establishes a statewide average caseload of no more than 13 families per worker. The bill also adopts other major changes to support the well-being of youth in care and to promote quicker timelines for children returning to or finding new, permanent homes. These include requiring certification that searches for relatives that youth can be placed with have been carried out and encouraging the sharing of contact information, so separated siblings can stay in touch with one another. HB 151 represents a major step forward in supporting children and families in need.
House Bill 151 passed the Alaska House of Representatives in May of last year by a vote of 23-17. Wednesday, the bill passed the Alaska State Senate by a vote of 18-0. Today, the House concurred with the changes in the Senate by a vote of 37-1. HB 151 will now be sent to Alaska Governor Bill Walker for his signature.
For more information, please contact Rep. Les Gara at (907) 250-0106.