Gov. Walker signs new foster care reform bill at annual Foster Youth Education Conference
by Matt Jardin |
Last Thursday in UAA's Bragaw Office Complex, located just a mile northeast from the main campus, Gov. Bill Walker signed into law a new bill ushered by outgoing Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) to reform Alaska's foster care system.
House Bill 151, referred to as the Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, establishes new caseworker standards in the state's Office of Children's Services (OCS).
Changes mandated by the new law include limiting the average statewide caseload count to 13 per worker, as well as doubling the training for new caseworkers to six weeks.
The new law is also designed to give more control back to foster youth and foster parents, such as requiring that those 14 and older be included in meetings regarding their case, those 16 and older have easy access to legal documents, and that siblings have the means to contact one other should they be placed in different homes.
The bill signing was part of the closing ceremony for the annual Foster Youth Post-Secondary Education Conference, organized in collaboration by OCS and the Child Welfare Academy (CWA) - a division of the university also housed in the Bragaw Office Complex.
Now in their sixth year under CWA's leadership, the conference brings in dozens of foster youth from across Alaska to introduce them to college life. Over the course of three days, attendees live in the dorms, tour the campus and hear from faculty.
Attendees also learn about financial literacy and financial aid options, including the 15 presidential foster youth tuition waivers awarded by the University of Alaska every year.
For some attendees who may be on the fence about continuing on to college, the conference is a valuable resource. For others, it's a great reaffirmation of their decision to pursue a degree.
Juneau resident Ben Miller, who lobbied for HB 151 and is a member of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, says he made the decision to enroll at UAA because of his experience at this year's conference.
"I was committed to Portland Community College. After coming to campus and talking with Amanda and my caseworker, I decided to come here in the fall instead. That was the big thing that happened to me during this conference," says Miller.
Amanda Metivier, B.S.W. '08, is the lead organizer of the conference and serves as associate director for the CWA's Office of Youth Empowerment and ETV Program.
Metivier is also one of the earliest recipients of the presidential foster youth tuition waiver, going on to earn both her bachelor's and master's in social work from UAA. For her, the decision to go into social work and put her passion to use for CWA was easy, resulting from her own positive treatment in foster care.
"I was attracted to social work early on because of my experience," says Metivier. "I just wanted to give back and help people in the way that I've been helped.
"I actually came and worked at the academy because my former social worker, who's the whole reason I became a social worker, was working at the academy. [Tom McRoberts] is also an alumnus of UAA!"
This story originally appeared in the UAA Green and Gold News.