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Report shows Alaska children, especially Alaska Native children, more likely to be in foster care

Institute of Social and Economic Research

ISER's new report says Alaska children are twice as likely to be in foster care than those in the lower 48.

The University of Alaska Anchorage released a report that found Alaska’s foster care rate is twice that of the national average. KDLG’sThea Card filed this report.

Alaska’s Office of Children Services is the agency that’s called whenever someone suspects children are being abused or neglected.  This agency investigates all reports and determines the level of risk to the health, safety and welfare of the child. 

UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research used information collected from OCS to create the report “Trends in Age, Gender and Ethnicity Among Children in Foster Care in Alaska.”

Assistant professor at ISER Diwakar Vadapalli is the lead author on the report.  He says where as some states saw change in foster care numbers because of federal and state law updates, Alaska’s has been consistent. The report shows that between the years 2006 and 2013, there were 2,000 Alaskans under the age of 21 placed into foster care.

There is a disturbing trend in the largest demographic of Alaska’s foster kids.

“Alaska Native children are way more likely to be in foster care in Alaska.”

In fact, Alaska Native children make up 20 percent of Alaskans under 21 but 60 percent of those are in foster care. 

“The likelihood of an Alaska Native girl to be in foster care compared to a white boy was 18 times more in 2009. And in 2013 it’s 16 times more likely.”

Although the data Vadapalli was working with didn’t give him the answer as to why the numbers in Alaska are so high he did say there’s a whole list of reasons that can contribute to a child being put into foster care, it’s not usually just one reason.

Aileen Mcinnis is the director of the Alaska Center for Resource Families.  She read the report and says those in her field aren’t surprised by the numbers themselves.

“There have been people trying to work on that issue for quite a few years and it’s called disproportionality. I guess what’s surprising to a lot of folks is that that number hasn’t budged.”

Mcinnis says although the state’s high foster care population is affected by Alaska’s higher than average alcohol and drug use and domestic violence rates, it may also be a result of a system that truly works.

“I also think that we have a pretty extensive Office of Children Services Child Protective System across the state as well.”

Vadapalli agrees but made it clear that he didn’t think being foster care was a terrible thing.

“Presumably these kids are more safer in foster care situations than they would have been otherwise.”

He says he thinks this report reflects poorly on the state but he’s hopeful that it will help shine light on the problem so change can happen.