Commentary: Alaska can do more for foster kids

For $715,000 a year, Alaska lawmakers can help the state's foster children stay in their schools, get housing help when they leave care, have a better shot at job training and college, get mentoring help, and more guidance from the state's Independent Living Program.

The alternative? Do nothing and continue to live with these numbers, found by the Alaskan Foster Care Alumni Study of 2005: 77 percent of those leaving foster care are on public assistance at some time or live with someone who is; 30 percent are imprisoned; 38 percent are homeless at some time after leaving care, 30 percent within the first year. With about 2,000 Alaska children in foster care, those percentages are chilling.

And they're a lot more expensive than $715,000 a year.

Fortunately, the House Finance Committee has decided unanimously that doing nothing is a sorry alternative, and approved amendments to the state operating budget that would provide:

• $200,000 for a competitive grant to set up a statewide volunteer mentoring program for foster youth and those coming out of foster care. Rep. Les Gara, a former foster child and a longtime advocate for better care, likened this program to a Big Brothers, Big Sisters for older kids.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.adn.com.