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Posts tagged ‘foster care’

Heart Gallery Features Foster Kids Seeking Forever Homes

By Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

Who do you call when making a major life decision? Who do you spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with? Who do you call to celebrate milestones in life with? For most people it is family. For children in foster care who are waiting for an adoptive family, it is no one.

In the state of Alaska there are over 150 children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated and they are waiting for an adoptive family to choose them. Without an adoptive family, these children will age out of the system and be on their own.

The statistics for aged out foster youth are staggering: only 50 percent will graduate high school, 40 percent will experience homelessness, 30 percent will be incarcerated and 25 percent will report substance use and abuse. The Heart Gallery of Alaska is the only recruiting of its kind in the state of Alaska for these youth.

The Heart Gallery of Alaska utilizes the power of media to capture the individuality of children waiting in foster care in order to advocate for their adoption. Each child listed on the Heart Gallery of Alaska has chosen to be featured and is legally available for adoption.

This gallery does not show every child awaiting a home, but serves as a compelling representation of the many Alaskan children who are looking for forever families. Through the Heart Gallery of Alaska, a loving family can inquire and learn more about children awaiting adoption, and children featured on the gallery are encouraged to express what they are looking for in a forever family.

Beacon Hill operates the Heart Gallery of Alaska and is a privately funded nonprofit based in Anchorage and operating across the state. They work with professional volunteer media teams to showcase Alaska’s beautiful children. Because of this, many of these children have and will find permanent, loving homes.

In 2017, the first full year of Heart Gallery of Alaska, 30 children had chosen to be on the gallery, six were adopted, one found a legal guardian, 14 were matched with potential pre-adoptive families, and two aged out of foster care.

So far in 2018, there are 39 children listed on the gallery with 24 of them matched with potential pre-adoptive families and five finalized adoptions! An exciting victory is a sibling set of five who were listed on the Heart Gallery in December 2017 and were matched with a family March 2018 and continue to do well! Heart Gallery of Alaska works at finding children forever families!

Beacon Hill’s Heart Gallery of Alaska was selected from 2,000 nonprofits from across the country as one of the top 200 finalists in the State Farm Neighborhood Assist. A 10-day voting period in August brought a fierce competition with supporters from across Alaska and the country participating by voting daily. The top 40 winners of $25,000 will be announced September 25.

Dawn Paulson Family Coach Supervisor

Dawn Paulson, Family Coach Supervisor

The CrossFit community is rallying around the Heart Gallery of Alaska by holding an upcoming event: The Reliance Games. CrossFit Grizzly at the MTA Sports Center is hosting a CrossFit competition event to raise funds for the Heart Gallery of Alaska during Adoption Awareness Month. The event will be held November 11 at the MTA Sports Center and they have an exciting goal of raising $50,000. Check out the Facebook event, or register as a volunteer or competitor.

View the children on the Heart Gallery at www.heartgalleryak.com.

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”

– National Adoption Center

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

By Mary Johnson and Natalie Norberg

“Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe.”

This is the vision statement for a five-year strategic plan created to address the disparities that Alaska Native children experience in the child welfare system. Today over 3,000 children are in the Alaska foster care system. More than half of these children are Alaska Native. This disparity is unacceptable.

Recognizing that no one government agency or Tribal entity can solve this problem alone, the “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” was created as the result of a passionate and collaborative process which included numerous Tribal, state and community partners over many months. Participants talked openly and frankly about how to solve problems, reduce barriers and promote children being served closest to home within the context of their Tribe and culture whenever possible.

A personal account from a non-native foster parent:

With her little hand in mine, the two of us slowly walk down the ferry ramp into the bowels of the Le Conte, one of the oldest and smallest vessels that make up the fleet of inter-island ferries of Southeast Alaska’s Marine Highway. We are blasted by that familiar smell of salt water, marine diesel and car exhaust that permeates the parking level of the ferry before we ascend the several flights of stairs to the passenger level of the ferry. I feel weighted down as I struggle to carry the squirming child along with the numerous other packs and totes I am lugging that contain snacks and toys to keep an active toddler occupied for the four hour ferry trip. For Susie this is simply another day of her short life, where every day brings some kind of wonderment. When you are 2 years old, nothing is mundane; an ordinary walk to the park is a delight. For me, however, this day, this trip, feels far from joyful. In fact my mood feels like the dense heavy, gray clouds that press down on the forested islands we pass, layers and layers of suffocating gray.

Susie is 2.3 years old, a beautiful Alaska Native child with healthy rosy cheeks that are just beginning to shed their baby fat. She has soft, long, jet black shiny hair. Susie has been in state foster care since she was 11 months old. I am her 3rd foster home. Susie and I bonded quickly. I couldn’t wait for my work day to end and to pick her up from preschool. Although I did not ever encourage her to call me mommy, she quickly learned from her peers, to reach up her arms for me and call me mama. Susie loves to be read to, loves “Dora the Explorer”, and bubble baths. She is smart, perceptive and talkative. Susie could easily be that little girl I have always wanted as my own. But she doesn’t belong to me or my white culture. She comes from her own rich heritage, of which she must do her part to revitalize and pass-on.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed 40 years ago by congress as a measure to attempt to stem the tide of a disproportionate number of American Indian/Alaskan Native children entering state foster care systems and being adopted by white families; these children would forever be lost to their families, Tribes, communities, and culture. Today, both nationally and in Alaska, racial disproportionality continues to exist at alarmingly high rates. In 2016, while comprising less than 20% of the population, Alaskan Native children comprise over 55% of the children in foster care in Alaska.

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While it is easy to place blame on the child welfare system for the years it has taken to implement ICWA as it was intended; data shows widespread disparities of Alaska Native/American Indian people involved in all service sectors of society.  In order to follow the vision Alaska Native culture keeps Alaska Native children safe, there remains a need to balance both a recognition of the impact of historical trauma as well as the strengths of families we serve. Many professionals who have the responsibility to help vulnerable families may have unconscious bias about Alaska Native culture. These professionals are in positions to make life changing decisions for the family. Yet, without thoughtful and continuous self-evaluation, it is human nature to fall into systemic racism and follow the practice of favoring white, non-relatives over Alaskan Native relatives.

The ferry takes us to her island village, to her mother’s family, where she will be permanently placed with her maternal uncle and his family; a home, where she fits and belongs. Her hair and skin color matches theirs. She will be cuddled, loved and called “baby.” Their home is different than mine. It smells different, and is smaller, more crowded. Instead of having her own bedroom, as she did at my house, Susie will share a room with her brother who sometimes lives in the house and her teen-aged cousin. There is a chest freezer in the living room. Susie is terrified. She clings to me and won’t let go.  

Not too long ago, I feel confident that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) would have let me keep Susie forever. The caseworker and I could have come up with many different “reasons” for why Susie should be adopted by me; and the white judge, white attorneys and white guardian ad litems, who make such decisions, would have nodded and agreed. Times have changed. And this is a good thing. Having been a social worker first, and a foster parent second, my head has known this long before my heart; but my heart is getting there. The spirit and intent of ICWA maybe, just maybe, are beginning to be embraced.

The privilege of working in the field of child welfare is having the honor of being a part of a family’s path to healing. In the example above Susie is in a home where she is learning how to live in her Alaska Native culture and it will be one less battle she will have as she grows up, a child from a traumatic beginning, as she pieces together her identity.

A year later I go back to her village and visit Susie. She is happy and thriving. She is now three years old and doesn’t remember me at all. Somewhere deep in her mind, seeing me may trigger a vague sense of familiarity – a sense of knowing she was well cared for, nurtured on her journey to get back to her family’s people. And that is truly what matters – that I was a vehicle to help her return, intact, healthy and able to rejoin her people. My heart truly believes this.  

Find the full “Transforming Child Welfare Outcomes for Alaska Native Children Strategic Plan 2016-2020” report on the OCS website at http://dhss.alaska.gov/ocs/Documents/Publications/pdf/AK-Transforming-Child-Welfare-Outcomes_StrategicPlan.pdf.

About the authors:

Mary Johnson is the Child Protection Program Manager with the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Natalie Norberg is currently employed by the State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services; she is a former OCS case worker and foster parent.

Single Mom Facing Emergency Surgery Finds Support, Safe Place for Children

Earlier this year, Safe Families for Children Alaska received a call from a single mother with two young girls. Mom explained that she needed to have an emergency surgery that would render her incapable of normal movement for a few weeks. Her girls, who are used to being picked up and crawling all over their mom, would be unable to receive the attention and care they needed during her recovery.

Isolated and unsupported, mom had no one safe in her life to entrust her girls to. She also knew that if she were unable to find a safe place for her girls before surgery, she would have to place them in foster care. Fortunately, before that happened, a local church referred mom to Safe Families for Children Alaska, a new program offered through the nonprofit Beacon Hill.

Arrangements were made for the girls to stay with a certified volunteer host family whose children were close to the same age and attend the same school as the girls do. During her recovery, mom was able to video chat and talk on the phone with her children frequently.

The host family worked tirelessly to make the girls feel comfortable and at home, emphasizing the fact that these “extended sleepovers” were giving their mom time to recover and as soon as she was all healed and ready to go, they would be on their way back home.

During the placement, the host family connected mom with a support system though their mutual school connections and a local church. By the time the placement ended with Safe Families for Children, mom felt connected and cared for, and understood that she now has a network of people to call if anything like this were to happen again.

Thanks to Alaska Children’s Trust’s support of Beacon Hill and Safe Families for Children Alaska in 2016, these two young children and 19 others have avoided the trauma of unnecessarily entering the foster care system. Beacon Hill’s board and staff members are unbelievably grateful for the lifelong impact Alaska Children’s Trust has had on Alaska’s vulnerable families in 2016.

Find more stories like this in the Alaska Children’s Trust 2016 community report – coming soon!