Foster care advocates speak out about transition program

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Foster care alumni and advocates made their voices heard last week during a state budget meeting in support of a foster care transition program to provide ongoing services to kids graduating out of foster care.

Foster care graduate Shilo Valle, of Juneau, gave an eloquent testimony Tuesday in front of the House Finance Committee about how many don't successfully transition out of foster care because they don't know how to take care of themselves - keep a job, pay taxes, and so on. Valle was previously living in a tent on Thane Road.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the transition program," he said.

More than 100 youth graduate from Alaska's foster care system every year, said Amanda Metivier, statewide coordinator for Facing Foster Care in Alaska.

"For young people who age out of the system, they often have no connection to a family or even a supportive adult," she said. "They have nowhere to go on holidays, no one to call if they get a flat tire or end up in a crisis situation."

A former foster child and current foster parent and social worker, Metivier understands the need for support of foster care graduates.

"I hope to see more staff dedicated to working with youth who are aging out of the system as well as more support from the community for youth as they become young adults," she said.

Foster alumni Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, also advocates transitioning foster youth into job programs, high school completion and college.

"All of those things are cheaper than jail," he said. "And right now, more than 50 percent either end up with criminal involvement or on public assistance. So, it's both humane and less expensive to steer them toward work and education."

Gara was in foster care in New York from age 6, when his father was killed in a stabbing incident. He said he was lucky; he had a much easier time in foster care than most youth.

"I had a combination of people in my life who told me that education was important," he said. "I had the stability and the helping hand I think you need. But it's hard for me to sit in the legislature and realize that most of the youth in the state don't have the same benefit that I had."

According to Sen. Bettye Davis', D-Anchorage, some 40 percent of 2,000 Alaska foster care kids become homeless after being released from care. In February 2009, Davis sponsored SB 105, a bill regarding continuing education and support of foster care graduates.

"In a very odd sense, (SB 105) is aimed to create a foster care system like the one that I benefited from - housing stability, foster family stability and educational help for somebody who can't afford to go to college or get job training," Gara said.

With SB 105, Metivier hopes to acquire more resources for young people entering the world on their own and opportunities to be successful as adults.

"FFCA fully supports this bill as it addresses some of the much-needed supports for foster youth to be successful," she said. "Many of our members are faced with much adversity while in foster care, and as they make the transition into adulthood."

"You want these youth to have the same educational opportunity and job opportunities as someone who comes from a stable home," Gara agreed. "It requires more stability in foster care, and it requires that we lend those who have drive in life a hand so they can move forward.

"There is a growing understanding by folks in the legislature on both sides of the aisle that this is an issue we need to address. I think we have a lot of open minds in legislature these days, and I think that's a good thing."

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