New bill aims to improve lives of foster youth

A new bill looking to be sent before the
legislature this year hopes to improve the lives
of Alaska’s Foster Care youth.
Sen. Les Gara, alumnus of the state’s foster
care system is currently working with Sen.
Betty Davis to create a comprehensive foster
care bill.
Gara said that some of the key proposals
within the bill include the extension of Medicaid
until age 21, school stability and higher education
funding.
“We believe that if you make it through the
foster care system, and want to go to college,
there should be tuition wavers and housing,”
Gara said.
This is not the fi rst bill of this nature that
Gara has supported. Previous efforts were
unsuccessful, however said he hopes this bill
will gather the sympathies of the legislators.
“This shouldn’t just be a democratic issue-
this should be a democratic and republican
issue,” Gara said. “It’s really easy to say: ‘My
heart goes out to them,’ but what are we going
to do about it?”
Gara said that only a few people would be
opposed to merit-based wavers, but that it still
ultimately comes down to money. It’s an issue,
he said, that would require the legislature to
cross party lines.
“I don’t know how you hire social workers
without money, I don’t know how you get kids
through college without money,” Gara said.
The bill is a result of the Fixing Foster Care
summit held in Anchorage last November.
Gara and Amanda Metivier, president of
Facing Foster Care Alaska-both foster care
alum – hosted the event to tackle the many
issues foster youth face today.
State senators from both sides of the
aisle, and foster care youth and experts
were among those to take part in the
summit.
The result was not only the solidifi cation
of the new bill, but also a united front.
“I think we raised a lot of awareness,”
said Metivier, 24, who said that the new
bill tackles a lot of important issues with
foster care in the state.
Nationally, 17 percent of foster care
kids go on to higher education, and only
one percent graduate with a four-year
degree.
“A lot of the problem is lack of stability,”
Metivier said. “Sometimes what happens
is the student gets so far behind, that the
social worker encourages them to get a
GED,” Metivier said.
The University of Alaska currently
offers ten tuition wavers to foster kids.
Metivier said that she is the only one to
graduate college with the tuition waver
program.
This could be a result of the fact that
38 percent of teens out of the foster care
system end up homeless. Metvier said
many teenagers who are unable to fi nd
placement, end up at the Covenant house.
“They get comfortable there,” Metivier
said.
Barb Dexter, a secondary teacher
specialist with the Anchorage School
District’s Child In Transition/Homeless
Project, also attended the November
summit and supports the new bill.
“When a child is in foster care, the state
is the parent,” Dexter said. “It is the state’s
responsibility to take care of its children.”
The bill should be finalized later this
month.