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May 31, 2016 JUNEAU — Governor Bill Walker thanked the Alaska Legislature today for passing HB 200 and HB 27, which reduce barriers for adoption and boost state efforts to find permanent, stable homes for children living in foster care. The two bills passed the Alaska Senate today by votes of 18-2 and 20-0 respectively, and will now be sent to the Governor’s office for his signature.
“I added these two bills to the special session call because protecting Alaska’s children is absolutely critical,” said Governor Walker. “I thank members of the Alaska Legislature for the work they have done in recent years to stand up for our children, and am pleased we were able to get these two pieces of legislation across the finish line this year.”
Sponsored by Governor Walker, HB 200 streamlines legal proceedings involving children in Alaska’s foster care system. This “one judge, one family” model will allow for more timely judicial decisions, helping foster children quickly return home or exit foster care through guardianship or adoption. Additionally, HB 200 will:
– Combine up to four legal proceedings within one judge’s purview;
– Help to more formally recognize and identify extended family members of children in care;
– Reduce barriers for all family members, but particularly those family members of a child covered under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) who want to preserve and have the court apply their adoptive placement preference.
“Expediting a child’s exit from the foster care system helps to reduce trauma to the child and ensure that family connections remain strong,” Governor Walker said. “Our hope is that this bill will increase the number of Alaska Native children finding permanent homes within their family, culture and traditions in a timely manner.”
“We appreciate the partnership of the Alaska Federation of Natives in crafting this important legislation, and for AFN’s advocacy to help ensure the bill’s passage this legislative session,” said Valerie Davidson, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services.
The Alaska Senate also passed HB 27 today, which emphasizes the state’s responsibility for finding permanent placements for Alaska’s foster children and prioritizes placing them with relatives when possible. Sponsored by Representative Les Gara of Anchorage, the bill would also make it a priority for children to stay in the same school through the end of the term when moving from one placement setting to another in the same municipality.
“As a mother, grandmother, and former OCS caseworker, fewer things are of higher priority to me that the safety and well-being of our children,” said First Lady Donna Walker. “I thank members of the Alaska Legislature for their work on these two important bills, and for their commitment to protecting the youth in our foster care system.”
Source: State of Alaska