Rep. Les Gara

House Bill 27, Unanimously Approved by the Alaska Legislature, Will Help Ensure More Foster Youth Have a Loving Home and Succeed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 25, 2016

Juneau – Alaska Governor Bill Walker is scheduled to sign House Bill 27 during a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the University Center in Anchorage. The bill, sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage), passed the Alaska Legislature unanimously earlier this year. H.B. 27 will make significant reforms to help improve the lives of foster youth in Alaska.

“The Legislature came together to increase the chances our 2,900 foster youth get a fair shake in life,” said Rep. Gara, who has spearheaded and co-sponsored a number of foster care reforms aimed at helping youth succeed. “House Bill 27 will make sure we do better than perpetuate neglect for too many youths.  We need to perpetuate love and stability for those who face too many roadblocks to success.”

House Bill 27 includes provisions to get foster youth into stable, permanent, loving homes and out of foster care, where they often bounce between a dozen or more homes. Currently, Alaska has the second highest per capita number of foster youth waiting for adoptive homes in the nation.  

“A loving, stable family matters. Education matters. Success matters. This bill will help improve lives in all those areas,” said Amanda Metivier, who helped with the legislation and is Executive Director of Facing Foster Care in Alaska.

“I don’t want foster youth to have to jump all the hurdles I had to. Improvements in finding a stable family for youth, and in protecting youth who might end up homeless if released from care before they are ready, are important,” said Rachel Bedsworth, who went through 47 foster home placements and is now attending UAA.

“I want to thank the Governor and First lady for championing these youth. They put a children’s bill they knew had unanimous support on the Special Session call, my caucus made it a priority until it was voted on, as did many very supportive GOP majority members,” said Rep. Gara, a former foster youth who lost his father at the age of six.  “The state is the legal guardian of children it takes from their homes and, as a guardian, I want these children treated like their peers in healthy, supportive homes.”

H.B. 27 does several things. It helps students succeed so they don’t bounce from school to school in the middle of a school term, and helps those who are trying to succeed in college and job training. The bill also requires proof to the court that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) is looking for a permanent, stable home for youth; that when a child moves to another placement, OCS has looked diligently into whether available extended family members could be a strong, stable placement; and, seeks to ensure that youth in need of foster care aren’t discharged, too often into homelessness, when they aren’t ready to live on their own. 

“These are recognized best practices. With so many caring but very new caseworkers, it’s important to have a safety check to make sure things are being done right for every child, especially when caseloads are excessive and caseworker turnover is high,” said Rep. Gara, who has also fought to reduce OCS’s excessive caseload. 

Alaska Governor Bill Walker will sign House Bill 27 into law on Tuesday during a ceremony in Anchorage that is open to the media and public.

WHO: Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Rep. Les Gara, foster youth advocates, and legislators from both parties

WHAT: Bill signing ceremony for House Bill 27

WHERE: Student Information Center, University Center, 3901 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage

WHEN: 1:00 p.m., Tuesday, July 26, 2016

For more information, contact Rep. Les Gara at (907) 250-0106 or Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.

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