Alaska’s foster care system is getting a reprieve, thanks to a bill to relieve pressure on caseworkers.

The bill is called The Children Deserve a Loving Home Act, a bill successfully carried by House Finance Vice Chair Les Gara (D-Anchorage).

In the final days of the legislative session, Gara received broad support to establish new caseworker standards in the Office of Children’s Services.

The bill places such limits as the average statewide caseload limit not exceeding 13 per worker. It also mandates six weeks of training for new caseworkers and further limits their caseloads.

Gara says excessive workloads have led to caseworker turnover of nearly 50 percent.

“Children and families are going to be damaged when you have caseworkers that have overwhelming caseloads,” Gara said. “So new caseworkers come, they see the overwhelming caseloads. They come in, they leave. They come in they leave.

“And there is nobody who knows the children or knows the families. And the caseworkers make mistakes. Just like a three-person basketball team is just not going to win. You’re going to lose every game.”

Gara’s bill cleared the Senate 18-0 and the House 37-1. It still needs Gov. Bill Walker's signature. It has not been transmitted to Walker's desk yet.

“The results of the bill are going to be kids with real chances in life,” Gara said. “Families that are kept together when possible and kids that get out the foster care system fast rather than lingering in there forever.

“It’s a national model. We are one of the few states to have adopted it. It’s going to work It’s going to get kids out of the foster care system and into loving homes.”

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