Former foster kids and parents gathered in Anchorage Wednesday evening to share their struggles with the system and the Office of Children’s Services.

State Representative Tammie Wilson hosted the hearing. She said there are many great foster families and dedicated OCS workers, but there are also major issues, including not enough foster homes, children not being placed in the right home for their needs and siblings splitting up.

"It is hard when you split a family up, and especially if you have to split siblings and have them in several homes,” she said.

Another problem highlighted by testimony is how quickly OCS sometimes pulls children from the home. One woman said she lost custody of her kids based solely on unproven allegations. Former foster child Rebecca Wells says she and her two siblings were taken from their parents after someone reported her parents were alcoholics. She acknowledges her parents did drink but said the homes she was placed into were far worse than the one she left.

“If the state had given up proper resources to handle it on our own with treatment or anything else, it would have been a lot better in the long run,” said Wells.

"We need to do whatever we can to keep the children in the home, bring the services to the parents, where right now it seems like we pull kids very quickly,” said Wilson.

There are more than 3,000 children in foster care in Alaska. As the system grows, so does the cost. Wilson said the state could save money by helping struggling parents first, rather than taking their children away.

“We are actually spending more money taking them out of the home and into a foster care situation than if we took those services to the family and made sure that we were able to give them the support that they need,” she said.

A law updating Alaska's foster care policies, HB 151, passed the House unanimously and is expected to go to the Senate next session. Among other things, its goal is to keep more kids in their homes or in the home of a relative. It would also limit caseloads for OCS workers and require more training.

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