Alaska Rep. Les Gara speaks about homelessness among foster youth

Dec 10, 2014

20 percent of Alaska's foster youth were homeless in 2013, 24 percent ended up in the criminal system.

Attention was drawn to the foster care program in this state with the publication of the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research study that showed Alaska Native children are more likely to be in foster care than others.  However, one Alaska representative says there are other issues within the program that weren’t discussed in the report.  KDLG’s Thea Card filed this report. 

Representative Les Gara.

Representative Les Gara saw the numbers ISER released earlier this month. 

“The frustrating thing for all of us is that as guardians of the state’s foster youth, and the state is their guardian as long as the youth is out of their home, we I don’t think are doing for these youth what a guardian or parent would do for their own youth.”

Gara says the state is the guardian for over 2,400 foster youth. Of those, 20 percent of Alaska’s foster youth were homeless in 2013, however, the number is almost double if you include those who stayed at friends’ homes or couch surfed without having a permanent home to call their own.

Gara says there are other troubling statistics that worry him.

“24 percent of these youth are ending up in the criminal system, roughly 20 percent end up homeless after they leave foster care, less than half of them are graduating high school at least in Anchorage and a lot of other areas that don’t have the money that Anchorage has.  So it’s time we start taking this issue seriously and start replacing failure with success.”

Trauma and multiple relocating are the two biggest reasons Gara sees for these numbers.  Both can cause a child to fall behind in school.  However, there are others.

“One of the things that we have to do is make sure that we have an adequate number of foster parents and adoptive parents.  But you can’t have that if you don’t have the staff that’s able to stay in touch with foster parents or recruit adoptive parents.  When foster parents don’t get their phone calls returned because there aren’t enough staff to return their calls we lose our best foster parents.”

However, he stresses that he does not blame the Office of Children’s Services which he says is understaffed and underfunded.

Gara says although there are problems within the foster system, they are fixable problems.  He says getting youth the care they need and keeping them out of jail will actually save the state money as well as keeping kids off the streets.