Court tightens rules on foster parents

Posted: Monday, January 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE - People charged with crimes may be ineligible to become foster parents, even if they are not convicted or the charges are ultimately dropped, according to a recent ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The justices rejected an appeal from William Wilkerson, who was denied a foster care license when investigators discovered he had two minor convictions and four dismissed charges that were more serious.

State law requires that a foster parent license be denied to anyone charged with or convicted of a felony within the past 10 years. The law also covers misdemeanor assault, reckless endangerment, perjury or drug offenses.

In 1996, when Wilkerson applied to become a foster parent, he had been charged with an assault and three drug counts within the previous 10 years, wrote Justice Robert Eastaugh. All of the charges had been dismissed.

The Division of Family and Youth Services twice denied Wilkerson's application for a foster parent license.

The agency cited Wilkerson's criminal history and his ``pattern of involvement with known drug users and dealers,'' and suspicion that he had physically abused his 5-year-old son.

Wilkerson argued that denying him a license on the basis of unproved charges violated his right to equal protection and due process.

The state regulation unfairly limits his ability to pursue an ``economic endeavor,'' Wilkerson said, namely collecting approximately $8,000 a year per child in state foster-care stipends.

But the justices ruled unanimously that foster care is not a for-profit enterprise, and that the stipend is intended only to cover the actual costs of the foster child. For that reason, an individual has only minimum legal protection in pursuing a foster care license.

``Indeed, it would be worrisome to think that an applicant for a foster parent license would be motivated by personal economic gain,'' Justice Robert Eastaugh wrote. ``The state's compelling interest in the welfare of its foster children greatly outweighs any property interest the applicant might have.''

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