Overwhelming Bipartisan Support for Proven Reforms to Help Foster Youth Succeed
Anchorage – Today, Alaska Governor Bill Walker will sign landmark legislation into law to implement proven reforms to Alaska’s overburdened foster care system. The two-year process to successfully pass House Bill 151 concluded in the final days of the Second Session of the 30th Alaska State Legislature. Gov. Walker is scheduled to sign the bill today at 1:00 p.m. during a ceremony at the UAA Child Welfare Academy located at 1901 Bragaw Street in Suite 105. The Governor will be joined bill sponsor Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), who grew up in foster care, and dozens of current and former foster youth, including several youth preparing to attend the University of Alaska in the fall.
“This success belongs to the current and former foster youth who’ve poured their hearts out and bravely told their stories to legislators to educate us all. Their fingerprints are all over this bill, and the many past reforms we’ve worked on together. That includes the addition of needed college scholarships and job training support, which were added after youth explained the need for a system that helps youth succeed after leaving care. The proven reforms called for in this bill will improve the lives of thousands of foster youth in Alaska. I want to thank dedicated public servants like Valerie Davidson, tireless advocates like Amanda Metivier, legislators of all political stripes who helped, and to the Governor who stood up to endorse this reform effort early on. At its best government helps people succeed, and that’s the goal of the many evidence-based reforms in this legislation. We want youth facing devastating life disruptions to have fewer hurdles in life,” said Rep. Gara.
HB 151, The Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, implements comprehensive national best practices for foster care, including strong training and workload standards for caseworkers in the Alaska Office of Children’s Services. New caseworkers will be provided six weeks of quality training, and be given lower, nationally recommended caseload levels, so they can do the work to get youth back with their original families, or into a permanent loving home faster, with less trauma. Currently, it is normal for caseworkers to carry caseloads 50 percent to 100 percent higher than what national child advocacy experts recommend. That causes youth to languish in foster care, sometimes in multiple temporary foster homes, far too long.
“This landmark piece of legislation offers sweeping changes to Alaska’s child welfare system. There are reasons why we have more foster youth than ever before. The opioid epidemic is tearing apart families and leaving kids and young adults living on the edge. The recession is costing people jobs, and Alaska leads the nation in the rates of domestic and sexual violence. There is uncertainty everywhere, but thanks to this bill there may be more certainty for these brave children and youth that they will have good caseworkers with the resources and knowledge to help,” said Amanda Metivier, founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska.
In addition to training and caseload restrictions, HB 151 implements other major changes to support the well-being of youth in foster care. Caseworkers will now routinely conduct exhaustive searches for relatives so more foster youth can be placed with loving family members. Foster care placements with relatives like aunts, uncles, or grandparents are often far less traumatizing to foster youth than being placed with a stranger. HB 151 also requires the sharing of contact information so that siblings in separate foster care placements can maintain needed contact with the closest people in their lives. The bill also allows foster parents to make normal decisions for youth about sports, vacations, or other activities without clearing them through their caseworker, which creates extra work and unnecessary frustration.
“OCS caseworkers are constantly being asked to do more with less as the foster care system becomes more overburdened every day. The data is clear that lower caseload levels result in better outcomes for both foster youth and their families because caseworkers can give individual cases more personal attention and oversight. The smart reforms in this bill received near unanimous support from lawmakers because helping children is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue,” said HB 151 co-sponsor Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage), Chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee.
House Bill 151 passed the Alaska House of Representatives in May of last year, and the Alaska State Senate unanimously passed the bill last month in the final days of the legislative session. Alaska Governor Bill Walker will sign House Bill 151 into law today at 1:00 p.m. during a ceremony at the UAA Child Welfare Academy located at 1901 Bragaw Street in Suite 105.
“Quyana (thank you) to Representative Gara for his leadership on this important bill and all the dedicated OCS staff who work hard every day to keep Alaska’s children safe. This bill provides resources that allow caseworkers to work more effectively with children and families,” said Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson.
For more information, please contact Rep. Les Gara at (907) 250-0106 and Amanda Metivier at (907) 230-8237.