The laws are changing in Alaska to give children and families a better shot at life after being involved with the foster care system. House Bill 151 is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Walker. HB 151, also referred to as the Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, is endorsed by Finance Vice-Chair Les Gara. The new laws will mandate the following:
- six weeks of training for new caseworkers
- a caseload limit of 13 families per caseworker
- the allowance of kids over 14 to be involved in their case plan
- certification that relative searches have been conducted
- advocacy for sharing contact info with siblings
The need for new standards is long overdue. Excessive caseloads have caused a caseworker turnover rate of nearly 50 percent. An estimated 3,000 kids are in foster care in Alaska each month. The caseworkers and families are suffering as a result of limited resources and case overloads. Caseloads hit a high in Wasilla in 2017, with the average caseworker having 43 cases. Some had as many as 50. Representative Gara says half of the kids in foster care end up being homeless at some point, and 26 percent end up in jail.
Isaiah King’s journey through foster care was not an easy one. “I literally just grew up with my older sister, and me and her made it for maybe a year or two on the streets,” King recalled. They couch-hopped between friends and family at times. Things became too difficult for them, and he entered foster care at age seven.
King ran away from his first placement to find his sister. He frequently acted out, which resulted in several stays at North Star, a group home for kids with behavior issues. He finally found a good, stable foster home. Then his foster mother moved to an area with a better climate and less crime. King got a new CASA worker. Their relationship was rocky at first, but later she adopted him. If King had been given an opportunity to keep in contact with his sister, his life may have turned out much differently. He still doesn’t know where his sister is. HB 151 could mean a new level of hope for thousands of kids.