ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Foster care is meant to provide a safe, stable environment for children until they can return home or find another permanent place to live.
Here in Alaska, a controversial practice has recently been outlawed, while another remains in place.
Amy Harfeld, the National Policy Director for the Children’s Advocacy Institute, says Alaska has been failing to provide notice to foster children about social security benefits to which they are entitled.
“It is unjust and really unconscionable to intercept and pocket the benefits of the most vulnerable people in care,” Harfeld said.
Some agencies, Harfeld says, were adding themselves as payees when children qualified for social security benefits. Those dollars would then go toward expenses such as child care — something that foster children, are not obligated to do.
“Children in foster care don’t have a strong voice in what happens to them after they are either forcibly removed from their families and homes or orphaned by the loss of one or both of their parents — and so when the states apply for their benefits and then take their money without ever telling them or their attorneys, they have no way of knowing and their attorneys have no way of knowing,” Harfeld said.
While they are fighting to fix this issue, another controversial practice — which was recently outlawed — surrounds charges for “child support.” Previously, when children went into foster care, parents could be hit with a surprise bill from either the county or state to share the cost of care. Trevor Storrs, President of the Alaska Children’s Trust, says this was simply keeping good parents from being reunited with their children.
“When they have limited funds they at times can not achieve those goals, and or potentially even have the time to give to that — not in the sense of giving to the children — but when you’re working a couple jobs already and or trying to spend time with your children, to then have to jump through other hoops. So there are those barriers,” Storrs said.
Storrs says the goal is to reunite children with their biological families, whenever it is safe and appropriate. The removal of that law is a step forward.
“Numerous studies show that when a child is with their family — with the people that are like them — they are much more successful. Whether we are talking culturally and or biologically — it’s just very essential — because when you have a sense of belonging and connectedness, your overall development is much more successful,” Storrs said.
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