Voices of Alaska: A vote away from helping Alaska’s foster children

  • By Donna Walker
  • Thursday, May 19, 2016 3:47pm
  • Opinion

As a mother and grandmother and through my work with foster youth and the Alaska Children’s Trust, I have realized that few things are of higher priority to me than the safety and well-being of our youth and families.

Imagine a foster child finally getting a permanent home, but having to leave her friends and teachers behind to make that happen. Upturning one part of a child’s life to create stability in another part happens too often with foster children. We owe it to Alaska children in foster care to make their transition back to their home or to new homes, whether temporary or permanent, as seamless and supported as possible. Two bills awaiting Senate hearings can make these transitions easier. Each bill has a zero fiscal note attached meaning so budgetary impact to the state.

HB 27 makes it a priority for children to stay in the same school through the end of term when moving from one placement setting to another if in the same municipality and in the best interests of the child. This educational continuity can provide stability for children when they move to new foster or adoptive homes. Switching schools mid-term can set students back several months.

Introduced by Representative Les Gara, HB 27 also adds language that emphasizes the state’s responsibility for finding permanent placements for Alaska’s foster children and prioritizes placing them with relatives when possible. Research shows that children are generally more successful when placed with family or close friends. According to Representative Gara, a former foster child himself, the goal is to spare the child from being bounced through multiple placements. The Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, already encourages and promotes the recruitment of foster, adoptive and guardianship homes. This bill formalizes this practice and gives courts the power to assess and demand these reasonable efforts.

Currently, there are over 700 children in foster care who are awaiting permanency — the highest, per capita, of any state. Many of these children are placed with relatives or families who intend to adopt or become legal guardians; however there are other children who are waiting for a permanent home. Many of these children are older youth you need a family to help them transition through the difficult challenges of adulthood. In short, HB 27 puts more muscle into our efforts to find permanent homes for every Alaska child. As a complement to this bill, HB 200 reduces the barriers to finding these permanent homes.

Under current law, someone seeking to adopt an Alaska Native child or Indian child in the custody of DHSS must file a formal petition for adoption in order to have the adoptive placement preferences under the Indian Child Welfare Act be applied and recognized. The Alaska Supreme Court has held that a “proxy” can be used in lieu of this formal petition.

HB 200 defines and clarifies the proxy process for use by all Alaskans interested in the immediate permanent placement of a relative child. It will streamline decision making, help avoid adoption disputes, and save the state time and money associated with multiple hearings by employing a “one judge, one family” model that allows one judge to oversee a child’s case from beginning to end.

The bill, introduced by Governor Walker, will benefit all Alaskans seeking the adoption of relatives, but it will specifically increase the number of Alaska Native children who can be placed immediately and permanently, if necessary, with their family, community and culture.

In my work with the Office of Children’s Services, I know firsthand the challenges our foster youth face and the need and longing they have for stability, predictability and a sense of belonging. With over 2,800 Alaska children in foster care – over 55 percent of them Alaska Native children – we cannot afford to wait. These children need to see our commitment to caring for and about their futures as they endure the day to day impacts of circumstance they did not choose and cannot control. Please join me in encouraging the Senate to move these bills to the floor for a vote.

First Lady Donna Walker is an attorney, former OCS Caseworker and honorary chair of the Alaska Children’s Trust.

More in Opinion

Charlie Franz.
Point of View: Election integrity is not anti-democratic

The federalization of elections by the Freedom to Vote Act infringes on the constitutional right of states to regulate elections.

Snow blows off Mt. Roberts high above the Thane avalanche chute, where an avalanche blew across the road during a major snowstorm. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
An Alaska winter of discontent

It’s been a hard winter throughout the state.

A Uncruise Adventures cruise ship, with a fleet of kayaks in the water behind it, in the Tongass National Forest. Uncruise, a boutique local cruise ship operator, has been vocal about the importance of the intact Tongass National Forest, or SeaBank, to its business. (Photo by Ben Hamilton/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: The dividends paid by Southeast Alaska’s ‘Seabank’ are the state’s untold secrets

Southeast Alaska’s natural capital produces economic outputs from the seafood and visitor products industries worth several billion dollars a year

teaser
Opinion: The pulse of fealty

Let’s be honest. Trump’s demands go beyond his one stated condition.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Alaska Voices: Permanent fund integrity in peril?

Alaskans need to be kept informed of what the trustees are doing with their money.

A cast member holds up a cue card in Soldotna High School’s production of "Annie" on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Is theater dead?

“It will not be an easy task, performing CPR on this theater, but imagine the joy that you could bring to the students.”

Bjørn Olson (Photo provided)
Point of View: Homer Drawdown moves forward with climate-change solutions

Two years ago, a small group of concerned citizens decided to use this book as a guiding document

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21 in Kenai, Alaska.
Voices of the Peninsula: Fight for democracy

When the Insurrection occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, it was a direct attack on our democratic rule of law.

Most Read