Commentary: Foster care system has room to improve

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

John Henderson works for the federal government, reviewing how well states serve children in their foster care system. At the Alaska Legislature's Foster Care summit Friday, he gave an overview of Alaska's performance in meeting federal standards.

Alaska's report doesn't look especially good.

Alaska does do some things well, Henderson said. Placing children close to home, with siblings, is one of them. Finding relatives to take in the foster children is another – the success rate there is 81 percent. In urban centers, the state gets good marks for making sure foster kids get proper schooling, including special education and mental health services.

But Alaska's "needs improvement" list was pretty long, and some of the shortcomings, Henderson said, raise urgent safety concerns.

In Alaska, caseworkers don't make enough home visits. Henderson noted that a caseworker should meet monthly with each foster child, but that happened only about 26 percent of the time. Alaska caseworkers did worse in meeting regularly with parents -- only about one in five cases met the once-a-month standard.

"This is urgent ... critical ... (it's) a risky kind of a situation" that "must be addressed in a short period of time," Henderson said.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.