July 21, 2022

Press Release: Gara Calls for Removal of Barriers Keeping Foster Youth From Their Parents

(Anchorage) – Today, Les Gara, former Alaska state legislator, foster youth advocate, and candidate for Alaska Governor, called on the Dunleavy administration to take action and remove existing barriers that are keeping Alaska’s foster youth from reuniting with their parents. In June, the federal government dropped the requirement for states to charge impoverished parents “child support” when they lose their children to foster care, recognizing the practice made it harder for good parents to get their children back. Alaska has yet to take action and remove the financial burden on families of foster youth.   

“Charging parents for the cost of foster care, even when children are mistakenly removed from a home, harms children, and keeps them in an often-harmful foster care system with a massive shortage of foster parents. It delays reunification with natural parents who struggle to pay these bills, and can’t afford treatment and other things they may need to get their children back,” said Gara.

Gara, a former foster youth, recently received a 2021 award from the Alaska Children’s Trust as a Champion for Children. He has received several national and state awards for his work as a legislator helping foster youth.

Gara’s statement was mirrored by Barb Malchick. Like Gara, Malchick has also earned awards for her work from the Alaska Children’s Trust and the National Association of Social Workers-Alaska. She has spent a career representing foster youth and currently serves on the Board of the non-profit, Facing Foster Care in Alaska. Malchick said: “Requiring parents to offset the costs of foster care does not benefit children or help families reunite. Burdening them with child support payments just adds stress to an already stressful situation.” 

Gara proposes Families First legislation to end the practices of charging families and calls on the state to suspend the detrimental practice.

“Overburdened staff should use their time on other duties, like collecting traditional child support owed to single parents,” said Gara. “Alaska law explicitly says a child’s ‘best interests’ must be protected under our foster care laws, and this would help meet that statutory requirement.”

As Alaska’s next governor, Gara will also require the state to follow the comprehensive foster care reforms he passed in 2017 and 2018, which the state is violating. They require, among other things:

  1. The state to actively recruit foster parents when there’s a shortage, and Alaska has been losing foster parents for three years.
  2. That new workers have small caseloads of no more than six families as they learn their jobs. New workers, often without any educational background in foster care, are frequently given caseloads double what’s required by the law Gara passed in 2018, increasing the grave risk they’ll make mistakes with the lives of children and parents.

“We need to help children and families thrive,” said Gara. “Children shouldn’t languish in an overburdened foster care system where 60% of our caseworkers leave within a year. We should do more to reunite children with their families quickly when that’s safe.”