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From Foster Care to a Forever Home

By Amanda Metivier, Executive Director of Facing Foster Care in Alaska

There are currently more than 2,800 children in foster care throughout Alaska. A record number only expected to increase. Being in foster care is overwhelming, exhausting, and comes with a lot of challenges. Even with all of the chaos, it still offers a sense of security and relief to those who have experienced abuse and neglect.

Jamie ACT Blog Pic

Jamie and her little buddy, Hannah. Jamie taught Hannah how to ski in 2013, and they have been friends since then. Both of these girls love to be up at Eaglecrest skiing/riding together!

18-year-old Jamie Yaletchko is the definition of resilient! Jamie recently aged-out of foster care in Juneau, Alaska. Jamie spent three years in the system, moved seven times, and had nine caseworkers, and nine counselors.

When asked to describe her time in the system, Jamie says, “It was difficult … when I first went into foster care I was separated from my three siblings, and removed from my best friend’s house. I was placed with two of my teachers, with a long-term goal of adoption. In the end it didn’t work out the way we had planned. Just after I turned 16, I went in to an ‘emergency placement,’ at the home of one of my siblings. I was excited to be close to my sister, even if for only a short time. I lived in the emergency placement for nearly a year. Then I was moved to Juneau’s Transitional Living Program (TLP).”

For many youth in foster care, as they get older, plans for adoption or a permanent family become less of a priority. Foster youth are expected to start acquiring life skills at age 16, to help them transition in to self-sufficient adults.

Jamie quickly learned she would need to start taking care of herself. She remained at TLP while attending Thunder Mountain High School, and worked three jobs. “My OCS (Office of Children’s Services) goal was no longer permanency, and I was just working hard to graduate and receive my diploma. TLP became a little bumpy for me with the rules, so I was moved to Cornerstone Emergency Shelter. I was in Cornerstone for two months. One day, I just refused to go back, so I was considered a ‘runaway.’”

Many foster youth end up being placed in emergency shelter care or residential programs when foster homes aren’t available. These programs can be challenging for teenagers as they are required to follow strict rules to meet child care licensing regulations and have limited access to family, friends, and the community.

“I was finally placed with my boss, who became a foster parent just for me! I lived with her and her husband for six months. Next, I moved in with my boyfriend until I aged-out of the system at 18.”

Jamie experienced a lot of transitions in just three short years, but never gave up on herself and her dream of being adopted. “Today, I am working hard on school, work, life, and I am currently in the process of being adopted by the Kasler family! They are also adopting my brother, who they are currently fostering. My brother, Joey, is 19. My little siblings, Jayelene and Jesse, live in Washington with our oldest sister, who is currently fostering them, but trying to adopt as well. In the end, we all ended with permanency. The way I see it, all of us have a forever home and a place to go; Joey and I of course can also always go to our sister’s house. My siblings and I have all had lots of different experiences between foster homes, families, and our experience/life in OCS.”

Alaska has just over 1,400 licensed foster homes, oftentimes making it difficult to keep large sibling groups intact. Jamie was separated from her siblings as they all moved between different foster homes. Throughout her journey in the system, Jamie advocated to maintain close relationships with her siblings and even graduated high school early. Today, Jamie continues to stay busy working as a clerk at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Juneau (NCADDJ), a barista for Heritage Coffee Co, and a ski instructor at EagleCrest. She’s also the Southeast regional representative for Facing Foster Care in Alaska, working to share her story and empowering others to do the same.

Amanda MetivierAmanda Metivier is a founding member and the executive director of Facing Foster Care in Alaska (FFCA). Amanda spent three years in Alaska’s foster care system before aging out. She is a foster parent, holds a bachelor’s and master’s in social work, and has been a longtime advocate for foster care reform. Amanda has worked for nearly 13 years to amplify the voices of foster care youth and alumni to promote systems change and create a community of support for current and former foster youth throughout the state. 

The Best Food You Don’t Have to Buy

By Michelle Tschida, CNM, IBCLC Alaska Native Medical Center, and Tamar Ben-Yosef, All Alaska Pediatric Partnership

Here’s some food for thought: More lives could be saved annually by increasing breastfeeding rates to recommended levels than lives saved annually by car seats.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding is poorly supported in our country. Car seat laws aside, we never hear a doctor, nurse or grandparent say, “Well, using that car seat seems kind of complicated and inconvenient” or “We don’t want to make that family feel guilty about not using a car seat, so let’s not talk about it.” But parents hear those same messages when it comes to breastfeeding. What they don’t routinely hear is that their decision whether or not to breastfeed is one of the most important health decisions they will make for their child.  

Over the course of the last 30 years, the research has mounted about the overwhelming benefits to breastfeeding. Babies that are breastfed are less likely to get sick from allergies, asthma, and respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

The benefits extend beyond infancy: Breastfeeding results in lower risks of developing childhood cancers, diabetes and obesity, in addition to lowering the mother’s risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Also, though not guaranteed, mothers have found that breastfeeding, which is a high-calorie burning activity, has helped them shed their extra pregnancy weight quicker.

A recent study has shown that more breastfed babies go on to attain higher education and earn more money than do babies who were not.

Here’s some of the science: Breastmilk contains special fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids support healthy brain growth and development, placing breastfed babies in a better position to become the next Nobel laureates.

And since we’re throwing money into the mix, breastfeeding is considered an economic equalizer, meaning that all parents, regardless of race or social class, have access to the perfect food for their baby and can provide them with the best start to life.

Breastfed babies are held more and have consistent intimate contact with their mothers. This contact along with the repetitive release of the hormone oxytocin (the hormone responsible for childbirth, love, and bonding) during breastfeeding creates a special bond and closeness not easily replicated.

When we at the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, there is one in particular that we look at the closest: the impact that breastfeeding has on rates of child abuse and neglect. In Alaska, where we have some of the highest rates of abuse and neglect in the nation, we also have little support for breastfeeding mothers in the areas of the state that need it most.

Women having babies in rural communities do not have access to lactation consultants like the women of Anchorage do. While our breastfeeding initiation rates are on par with other states and sometimes higher, without the much-needed support and assistance overcoming the difficulties, many of our mothers are switching to formula soon after leaving the hospital. Let’s face it, even breastfeeding does not happen stress-free.

Lastly, many smart folks have done the math and found that the U.S. would save around $13 billion per year in health care costs if breastfeeding rates increased to recommended levels.

Not motivated by doing it for your country? Do it for your own pocket, because families of breastfed babies save money, too. A year of formula costs approximately $1,300. There’s a lot you can do with $1,300, including paying a babysitter to watch the kids while the adults take a much-needed night out on a regular basis.

All of these benefits are seen best when babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, meaning no other foods or drinks are introduced before the baby is half a year old. After six months of age, the introduction of solid foods with continued breastfeeding through at least the first birthday will provide babies the best start to life.

Michelle Tschida is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She works at the Alaska Native Medical Center helping mothers deliver babies and provides assistance with breastfeeding. She is also a wife and mother of two young sons.

Tamar Ben-Yosef is the executive director for the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership, a nonprofit organization that works to improve health and wellness outcomes for children and families in Alaska through cross-sector partnerships and collaborations, education and communication.