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
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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 hearing.] 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 th 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 problems. 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.