OP-ED Caring for Alaska's Children
'Alaska needs more angels willing to foster'
First Lady Donna Walker
Office of Governor Bill Walker
Recently, I hosted a barbecue for Juneau's foster children and their foster families. At the event, I met some truly amazing foster parents whom I felt were "angels in our midst." One has fostered over 200 children and has a special calling to "mom" teenage boys. I talked with some of those boys currently in her care. They said things like, "she saved my life" and "I would be nothing without her."
Another set of foster parents I met currently have several foster youth in their home, in addition to their own biological children and four senior adults for whom they provide care. The mom beamed as she talked about a recent vacation to Disney World with the whole family of fifteen, and what great fun they had together.
Yes, as I said, "angels in our midst."
Alaska needs more angels willing to foster. At the barbecue, I talked with representatives from the Office of Children's Services (OCS) and Juneau Youth Services, and was reminded of the need for more licensed relative and foster care providers throughout the state. This need was urgent when I was an OCS caseworker in 2009 and has only escalated since then.
Across Alaska, children ranging from newborns to teenagers are all too often removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect from the hands of those who are supposed to be looking out for them. Relative care providers and foster parents are counted on to provide a safe, nurturing home until the children in need can hopefully be reunified with their families. Many of these children are part of a sibling group. While foster parents often take in multiple children to keep siblings together, the current shortage of foster families sometimes requires that siblings be separated; adding further trauma to young, vulnerable lives.
Across the state, there are over 2,600 children who are in out-of-home care, most residing in foster care. Additionally, while Alaska Native children make up about 17% of the state’s overall population, they represent 62% of our foster care population. Alaska Native foster families are especially needed for these children.
As a state, Alaska welcomes and supports families equally. Families of every race, culture and ethnicity are needed to help children grow with a sense of racial and cultural identity. Foster parents receive ongoing training and support to help them face the challenges and joys that foster care brings.
If you have ever considered fostering and would like to learn more, I encourage you to please call Alaska Center for Resource Families at 1-800-478-7307. A good foster parent can do more for a child than any program or resource. Alaska's children need more angels who will open their hearts and homes to provide the respite, nurture and support needed to build resiliency in these young lives. Healthier, safer children contribute to a healthier, safer Alaska.
Donna Walker serves as Honorary Chair of Alaska Children's Trust. She is an attorney, mother and grandmother. In August, she and Governor Bill Walker will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary.