Alaskans can join hands to care for our foster kids

May is National Foster Care Month. As an adoptive parent of a former foster child, I can’t help but think about the more than 2,500 kids still in state’s care. Obviously, I can’t adopt them all, but together we can care for these kids.

Each of the more than 2,500 Alaska children in our foster care system is experiencing trauma that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Our foster care system attempts to reduce the amount of trauma a vulnerable child experiences when their biological family can’t keep them safe and cared for. And mostly it does, but let’s be honest with ourselves about our neglect of this important safety net for children.

Caseloads for social workers are twice the recommended level. As a result social workers can barely keep up with phone calls, let alone provide thoughtful support for families in crisis. Some of this is due to vacancies, but even more of it is due to underinvestment in our foster care system.

There is also an extreme shortage of foster parents. We need strong families to step up and become foster parents so that these 2,500 children can be safe and loved when they are in state’s care. Sadly the odds are that only about half of these kids will be able to be reunified with their parents. The other half will need new permanent families.

Many would look at these facts and feel despair, and deservedly so. They are brutal. However, there is also so much to be hopeful for. There are so many wonderful people who have dedicated so much to help Alaska’s foster children — our foster children. People like:

Charity Carmody and her family have fostered children for years and then decided that more needed to be done. So they brought together a group of committed Christians to form Beacon Hill, an organizations that connects families in need of support with families with a need to help.

Marcus and Dora Wilson have fostered over 20 children and adopted two. Marcus, the principal at North Star Elementary, and Dora, who works for the IBEW, specialize in caring for teenage girls — yes, you read that right, teenagers. That makes them heroes in my mind. They currently have four in their family, a mix of foster and forever kids.

In Dillingham, Sarah Andrew and her husband are caring for a foster child in addition to their two forever kids, one born to them and the other chosen through a private tribal adoption. To understand the challenges rural foster parents face, imagine having to get approval from the government to take your kid to the doctor. If your child is a foster child, and taking them to the doctor requires a plane trip because there are not the necessary facilities in your community, that is exactly what is required. As one who can’t stand bureaucracy, I really appreciate our rural foster parents.

Honestly, I could continue to list the amazing people who are caring for our foster kids but there would be no more space in the paper for the rest of the news.

Now back to the 2,500 kids in care and their overworked social workers. What can we do?

Consider becoming a foster parent or court appointed special advocate. The old adage “many hands make light work” certainly applies here. We need more good people looking out for our kids. The Alaska Center for Resource Families has everything you need to know and does brief presentations about fostering throughout the state. In May, there are over 12 of these taking place but they are held all year long.

We can support full funding for the Office of Children’s Services. OCS is trying very hard to do the best they can with what they have and we need to help them. If we had 2,500 fires burning throughout the state, we would ask firefighters what they need to put them out. We should be asking the same question about how to help our kids.

Finally, take a few minutes to learn more. Visit www.fosterkidsfirstalaska.org to learn more about the heroes amongst us who are caring for our children — the most important natural resource — and about what things you can do to make a difference, small or big.

Ivy Spohnholz is a lifelong Alaskan and second generation foster parent. After adopting, she founded Foster Kids First to increase support for Alaska's foster children.

This piece was originally published in the Alaska Dispatch News on Wednesday, May 27th. http://www.adn.com/article/20150526/alaskans-can-join-hands-care-our-foster-kids


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