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JUNEAU—Governor Bill Walker and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott took significant steps today to ease the adoption process of Alaska Native children to allow them to stay with relatives or tribal members.
Gov. Walker has filed legislation that will to allow for more flexibility in the adoption petition form. This will ensure that the preference for Native children to be adopted by Native families remains of utmost importance and will make tribal participation in adoption cases easier. The bill will be read across the floor of the House and Senate today.
“This is very important to me,” Governor Walker said. “What’s good for Alaska Native children is good for all children. What’s good for Alaska’s children is good for Alaska.”
Since the legislation will not be passed this year, Lt. Gov. Mallott yesterday signed the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) emergency regulations to go into immediate effect. The regulations make it easier for the children’s family members, tribal members and the Tribe to intervene in out-of-home foster placements
“Alaska Native children make up about 20 percent of our population, but more than 60 percent of children in out-of-home placements are Alaska Native,” Department of Health & Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson said. “Quyana (thank you) Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Mallott for taking these two very important steps toward addressing that disproportionality.”
The goal is to pass the legislation next legislative session with the regulations acting as a stop-gap measure until the bill can be vetted by the legislature. Currently, the formal adoption petition process presents a high hurdle for families to overcome in order to adopt a foster child.
The purpose of the legislation and regulations is to help lower those hurdles and increase the number of permanent home placements, while still ensuring that the potential foster and adoption homes have safe and nurturing environments. Although the regulations cannot fully address the issue without a statutory change, they represent a significant step towards making the adoption process more accessible.
The Office of Children’s Services of the Department of Health and Social Services will put the regulations out for public comment in the next few days. All public comments and concerns will be taken into account before permanent regulations are adopted.
Yesterday, the Department of Law filed a brief related to the Alaska Supreme Court’s Tununak II decision.
“While we await the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision on granting a rehearing, the Walker-Mallott administration has moved past this case and is actively working on solutions to the underlying concerns of tribes and Alaska Native families,” Attorney General Craig Richards said. “I am proud to be a member of this administration and to assist in working on how to fix the issues faced by our Native communities.”