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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  
Foster Youth Mentors Needed At Big Brothers/Sisters;
Adoptive & Foster Parents Needed Too
Note from Rep. Les Gara

August 24, 2016

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Dear Friends and Neighbors:

I consider it good news when there are ways to help people.  Many years ago, when I started working to improve our foster care system, I listened to youth, and learned I had it all wrong.  Or partially wrong.  One thing they made clear was that foster care isn't all about, well, just improving the foster care system.  It's about what happens when a youth leaves the system, has no reliable parent, and has no reliable adult to turn to for advice.  In prior years statistics have shown high post-foster care homelessness (approx. 35%) and incarceration rates (approx. 20%) and we all want to do better. 

1. Easier to Harder Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteer Mentors Needed at Big Brothers/Sisters (easier); Good Foster and Adoptive Homes Needed (yup, harder)

And as usual, we have  a shortage of good, caring, strong foster parents and people willing to adopt a child out of foster care so they can have a normal life, with a stable, loving family.  And we have a shortage of volunteer mentors for youth.

The status quo isn't good.  Why am I writing?   Because we all have a moral compass and know we can't blame youth for the decisions of their parents.

Speaking With Foster Youth earlier this month
Speaking With Foster Youth earlier this month

2. Volunteer Mentors Needed (It's rewarding.  It's relatively easy!)

I promised youth to start a mentorship program, much like Big Brothers/Sisters, so older youth could connect with a caring adult who'd help them in their teens, and after they exited care.  So youth might have someone to go on hike with, go to a movie with, or eat lunch or dinner or talk with.  For youth with little or no money or support this can mean the difference between being supported and being left on their own. Amanda Metivier at Facing Foster Care was integral in these efforts and we worked together to move forward.

We started this program as a volunteer effort, then appropriated very modest funds once we had a proven model.  The funds are used to do a criminal background check on mentors, and have a couple of non-profit staff members to help screen & train mentors, speak with youth about what kind of match they'd like, and make matches.  Big Brothers/Sisters has won the competitive grant, and with budget cuts, I'm saddened that the funds only are used for matches in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.  This should be a statewide program, and I will work for both a budget solution, and to do this. 

Big Brothers/Sisters is especially short of needed mentors in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.  There is a need for male mentors, but especially a need for female mentors.  Want to take a child who has no car on a hike?  Fishing?  To a movie?  To a meal they can't likely afford?  Or just hang out and talk?  Youth want this.  They want someone who they know cares about them, when they have no parent to turn to, and who they can seek life advice fromwhich most children get from parents.  You'd be matched with a youth between 14 and 21 years old as they transition to adulthood and self-reliance.  Maybe you'd have good higher education and job ideas?  You have life experience, whether you are 22 or 80.  Youth want that.

What should you do?  You can call Sharon Pruszko at Big Brothers/Sisters for Anchorage and Mat-Su-area matches.  Call her at 433-4691.  She's great, but will be out of the office for a few days.

3. Shortage of Foster Parents and Adoptive Parents

Ultimately the goal is NOT TO KEEP A CHILD IN FOSTER CARE.  It's to get a child into a permanent, loving home.  We have a shortage of families willing to adopt a child out of foster care.  Alaska has the second highest waiting list of youth, on a per capita basis, ready, willing and waiting for an adoptive, loving, permanent family! 

Foster youth have more hurdles than most.  Or, in fairness, more traps that stand in the way to success.  We have a shortage of both foster and adoptive homes.  Good foster homes help youth succeed while the state tries to determine whether a parent can become responsible enough to take their child back.  With the shortage we have, youth bounce between foster homes, which can cause more damage - up to 40 and 50 in some cases.

Want to be a foster or adoptive parent?  Of course you should ask to determine whether the youth you want to help has needs that you can meet, or needs that are too high for you to work with at your stage in life.  Just let the placement folks know as they seek a good match for you! 

Interested in learning more?  Call the Alaska Center for Resource Families at 800-478-7307.

Well, that's it for now.

As always, let us know if we can help.  Calling our (or your representative's or Senator's) office tends to be better than e-mail.

Thanks!

My best,

[signed] Les Gara

 

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