February 11, 2009, Washington, DC —-
The statistics are sobering. Forty percent of foster youth in Alaska end up homeless after leaving foster care. The foster youth high school drop out rate is twice as high as that of their peers in stable homes, and their college attendance rates are less than half the national average. Today two legislators, Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bettye Davis (both D-Anch.) filed bills to fix the major problems faced by Alaska's foster youth.
"Children deserve hope. It’s our choice to help youth succeed, become wage earning adults, and overcome obstacles. Saying we’re OK with the status quo is saying we’re happy with a 40% homelessness rate. Fixing the greatest problems in this system would cost less than an average road project," said House Bill Sponsor, Rep. Les Gara (D-Anch.).
"As a retired Social Worker, my experience with Foster Care youth has shown the need for more assistance in the area of Foster Care. Closing the gap for youth aging out of foster care, and making it easier for families to support certain foster care youth is why I have sponsored the same bill introduced by Representative Gara," said Senator Bettye Davis, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Amanda Metivier, a foster care alumnus, and President of advocacy group Facing Foster Care in Alaska , has advocated for these changes with her organization. "Children and youth in foster care are faced with much adversity, and the state often creates barriers to their success. This Bill creates opportunities for Alaska ’s foster children to improve their lives during their time in foster care as well as, during their transition to independence", said Metivier. She and Rep. Gara also teamed to start a discount Foster youth clothing plan, FosterWear, earlier this year.
The legislation would fix a number of the greatest problems facing foster youth.
- It would help youth attend college and job training programs with financial aid and room and board scholarships.
- It will also prevent homelessness by extending rental payment assistance to up to a year for youth who cannot afford rent after they leave care, and have no place to stay. It will also extend foster care for those who want it, and medical coverage, to age 21.
- School underachievement will be addressed by a provision requiring that students not be transferred from school to school as they bounce between foster homes. School changes by foster youth are a big indicator of student failure.
- The legislation also requires that Alaska meet national standards by having social workers visit children at least once a month. A recent federal review of the state’s foster care system says the state is currently failing in this regard (some children are seen as little as once every 8 months). The Office if Children’s Services and its staff are working hard to address this problem, and this bill is aimed at prompting compliance with national visitation standards.
Meg Loomis, a Master of Social Work (MSW) student at the University of Alaska Anchorage has actively advocated fixes to improve circumstances. "Youth in state custody should have the same opportunities we give our own children, and this legislation helps to achieve this", said Meg.
Judy Cordell is a mother of eight children, three of whom spent five to ten years in the foster care system. As a past Director of Psychiatric Residential Services for Alaska Children’s Services she’s worked with hundreds foster children and teenagers. "Research indicates that these children are disproportionately at risk for early pregnancy, welfare, incarceration, and an array of other issues that ultimately can be a financial burden to society. This bill offers a cost-effective support during the vulnerable transition to young adulthood."
Original Article Retrieved on February 11, 2009