Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205

03/27/2009 01:15 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
Moved CSSB 133(HSS) Out of Committee
Moved SB 101 Out of Committee
          SB  27-FOSTER CARE AGE LIMIT/TUITION WAIVER                                                                       
CHAIR  DAVIS  announced consideration  of  SB  27 and  asked  Mr.                                                               
Obermeyer to provide an overview.                                                                                               
SENATOR PASKVAN  asked if  it is  the CS  that the  committee has                                                               
before them.                                                                                                                    
Mr.  Obermeyer confirmed  that  version E  CS for  SB  27 is  the                                                               
working  document   [having  been  adopted  during   the  3/11/09                                                               
1:52:03 PM                                                                                                                    
TOM OBERMEYER  said this is  "An Act relating to  tuition waivers                                                               
for a child who was  in out-of-home care; relating to out-of-home                                                               
care for a  child; amending the definition of  'child' in certain                                                               
statutes;  and   relating  to  out-of-home  care   transition  to                                                               
independent living."                                                                                                            
This bill  provides waivers  of tuition  and fees,  combined with                                                               
other  assistance to  help foster  or  out-of-home care  children                                                               
enjoy  the  opportunity  and  benefits   of  a  higher  education                                                               
afforded to others.                                                                                                             
Recognizing  the  severe  educational  disadvantages  of  persons                                                               
placed in foster  or out-of-home care many  states have initiated                                                               
a variety of college tuition  waiver and scholarship programs for                                                               
these persons. The University of  Alaska at this time has tuition                                                               
waivers for only  ten students statewide who were  in foster care                                                               
on their  18  birthdays  but the need  is much greater.  In 2006,                                                               
data indicated  that there  are over 2000  children in  Alaska in                                                               
foster care at  any one time; over 5000 live  in out-of-home care                                                               
with relatives  who are in subsidized  guardianship programs. The                                                               
average stay in  foster care in Alaska was 25  months but only 40                                                               
percent of  children had  two or  fewer placements.  The constant                                                               
moving  around  in   foster  care  and  the   lack  of  continued                                                               
assistance has impaired the education  of most students in foster                                                               
care and  this program is designed  to help remedy some  of those                                                               
1:54:11 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  OBERMEYER  mentioned that  the  primary  change between  the                                                               
original bill  and this  CS is that  the term  "out-of-home" care                                                               
has replaced the  term "foster care" throughout  the bill because                                                               
there are  so many children  who have been placed  with relatives                                                               
under a guardianship program.                                                                                                   
CHAIR DAVIS  asked if there is  anyone online or in  the audience                                                               
who wishes to testify.                                                                                                          
1:55:06 PM                                                                                                                    
MIKE   LESMAN,  Community   Relations  Manager   and  Legislative                                                               
Contact,  Department of  Health  and Social  Services, Office  of                                                               
Children's' Services (OCS), said SB  27 is a piece of legislation                                                               
that the department sees great merit  in; it has the potential to                                                               
help  kids who  are exiting  the foster  care system  as well  as                                                               
those  who   may  need  to   stay  another  year.   However,  the                                                               
department's position on SB 27  is neutral. He explained that the                                                               
department agrees  with the  results of  the most  recent federal                                                               
Child  and Family  Services  Review, which  found  that the  most                                                               
urgent work for OCS to do is on  the front end of the foster care                                                               
system;  it  surrounds  the safety  of  children,  timeliness  of                                                               
investigations and the proper assessments  of safety and risk. It                                                               
has to do with  keeping kids in their homes if  it is possible to                                                               
do that safely  and, if kids are removed,  reunifying families as                                                               
quickly as is possible. One of  the key ingredients of that which                                                               
the  federal   government  has  recognized  and   the  department                                                               
acknowledges, is  getting to all  of the home visits  their staff                                                               
has to  do. So with  the intent of focusing  on the front  end of                                                               
the system,  they believe there will  be correspondingly positive                                                               
benefits  to the  back  end,  that fewer  youth  will have  these                                                               
challenges as they exit care.  Right now the Office of Children's                                                               
Services is  focusing its resources  and its attention  on safety                                                               
and the front end of the system.                                                                                                
1:57:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DAVIS said she recognizes that  there is work to do on this                                                               
bill but  it is a  start. While she  agrees that it  is important                                                               
for the  department to work on  the front end, she  feels that if                                                               
this bill passes, it will also  be of help to them. She commented                                                               
that SB  27 and  SB 28  also address aspects  of this  issue, but                                                               
making  sure these  children  have  educational opportunities  is                                                               
very important and many of them have no one else to help them.                                                                  
She  appreciates  the fact  that  the  department recognizes  the                                                               
importance of  this legislation and  is willing to work  with the                                                               
committee  on   it;  she  encouraged   the  department   to  make                                                               
suggestions on  anything they feel  will improve  the legislation                                                               
and to let  the committee know if there is  anything they believe                                                               
is  problematic for  the department.  She  hopes the  legislature                                                               
will  come up  with  a  comprehensive package  by  the time  they                                                               
finish  the  26th  legislature, one  that  incorporates  all  the                                                               
components  the legislature  is working  on this  year including:                                                               
housing, school transportation, providing  for children to finish                                                               
the year at their school of origin when they go into foster care                                                                
and providing continuing educational assistance.                                                                                
2:00:29 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR DAVIS closed public testimony on SB 27 and held the bill                                                                  
in committee.                                                                                                                   

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