Out-of-state foster children present challenge

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

Of the 133 Alaska children in out-of-state foster care, approximately half are with family members, according to Richie Sonner, foster care program coordinator for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

"A lot of those are with a parent or relatives," she said. "Another big chunk are in some kind of residential facility, which means that either we don't have the capacity or the ability in the state of Alaska to take care of the kind of complex problems they have."

Others are with foster families that have relocated, and some are in pre-adoption settings.

Out-of-state placements are supervised through an interstate compact agreement created by federal law. It monitors the reasons children are sent from one state to another, who will be financially responsible, and who will provide oversight.

"The reason for the law was that kids were getting lost in the system," Sonner said.

Rather than send a child outside Alaska with a non-family member, Sonner said, "The first preference is to find a family member to place the child with."

Marcia Pickering, the department's deputy compact administrator, said out-of-state placement requires the receiving state to agree to provide supervision, do home visits and prepare quarterly reports.

"It is protocol procedure to give a state as much advance notice of the move and a full packet if at all possible, understanding that some people move for emergencies," Pickering said. "A child that we have jurisdiction over that is placed in another state must go through the interstate compact."

Pickering said she has no idea how many out-of-state children are currently in Alaska.

"My count goes by how many requests (for placement) are open," she said. "I have over 570 requests, incoming and outgoing. Some are here, some are waiting to be placed, some are waiting for home study approval."

Bill Galic, Kenai social worker for the Division of Family and Youth Services, said that if a child is placed out of state, it is done with the interest of the child in mind.

"We're obligated to place with relatives whenever we can unless there are reasons why we should not," he said.

One reason would be adoption by a foster family, which Sonner said is not uncommon.

"The national statistic is right around 65 percent," she said. "Our state statistic is in that same range."

However, Galic said, "It happens much less than 50 percent. Most of our children in placement go back to their families."

Payments to foster parents are based on location. According to Galic, Alaska's base rate for children up to 30-months of age is $21.46 a day; from 31-months to 11-years, $19.07 a day; and from 12- to 19-years, $22.65 a day.

Out-of-state foster families are paid at the rate of the particular state.

In Fiscal Year 2001, $10.9 million was authorized for the department's foster care base rate, and $11.2 million was requested for 2002.

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