Foster care needs in Juneau and Southeast Alaska

There are about 250 children in Southeast Alaska who need a home. Maybe it could be yours.

Juneau Youth Services foster care specialist Lori King said the largest age group needing placement are two year olds.

King, who has been a foster parent for multiple children in the past, organized a special information booth for December’s First Friday Gallery Walk in the Mad Hatter’s Emporium to encourage community involvement.

It’s set to stay open all weekend to answer the public’s questions and is set up alongside the donation box sites for the Office of Child Services’ annual Christmas tree gifting project, the Rachael McLeod project’s food collection and the Great Alaska Toy Drive. Additionally, a gallery of art created by local youth from 6th-12th grade with the theme “Inspirations” will be held at the old Heritage Coffee site next door to the Imagination Station.

“Even I’m still learning,” King said in an effort to encourage others to become foster parents despite worries of inadequacies.

King told the Juneau Empire that an undetermined amount of the 250 children needing foster parents will need special support through therapeutic foster care. It’s a new program that opened in July at JYS for children who need extra attention, structure and treatment for reasons which could range from trauma associated with neglect to challenging behaviors.

The FAQ on JYS’s website for the therapeutic foster care program said that the goal for many children is reunification with their natural families. Children who cannot get the help they need in their hometown might have to be moved from their support structure of friends, relatives and school to either a new part of town or possibly out of state, King said. To help resolve the issues that caused the need for foster care, it’s best for children to be in a familiar environment so they do not feel isolated.

Misconceptions about foster care, which may be holding individuals from stepping forward to help, were also addressed in the FAQ. Married couples, domestic partners, empty nesters, same-sex couples and single people can all be foster parents. They must have adequate space to accommodate the child and their belongings. While licensing is involved to become a therapeutic foster parent, JYS provides free, specialized training to parents before a child’s arrival.

“You don’t have to be perfect to be a parent,” JYS assistant executive director Walter Majoros said. “You just need to open your heart.”

For some, the idea of being a foster parent can seem huge, and sometimes even an overwhelming undertaking, but Majoros, along with JYS executive director Colleen McKenzie, said its their goal to make the process of being a foster parent as easy as possible, from initial interest to housing a child.

“Their hands will be held through the whole thing,” McKenzie said.

She said it’s not unusual for one of their team to visit people who are interested in becoming parents. McKenzie said she and Majoros are on call 24/7 to assist with any questions or concerns.

“What makes or breaks a program is the support offered to a foster parent,” Majoros said, adding that there are a variety of additional social service programs in town that can work with JYS to assist foster parents in providing the best possible care to a child, such as Head Start or AEYC. Majoros said there are other ways to help, such as being a part-time foster parent on weekends.

King pointed out that people who want to help but are unable to house a child can do so in other ways. She told the story of a woman who offered her services to teach children to bake bread.

Lori King can be reached at (907) 523-6542 during normal office hours to answer questions about foster care and other ways to get involved with helping youth.

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

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