Alaska foster youth will soon have more of a say in what happens with their cases.
In early April, the Alaska Supreme Court passed Order No. 1979, which amends court rules to allow foster youth the ability to attend hearings and have court-appointed attorneys argue their own wishes in their cases.
These changes are a result of the unwavering efforts of Alaska’s Court Improvement Program, a federally mandated committee that includes child welfare professionals and representatives, working to improve Alaska’s child welfare courts.
According to Amanda Metivier — director of the Child Welfare Academy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which trains new OCS workers — the move is part of a larger push for youth in foster care to have more say in decisions about their lives.
Youths in foster care have rights in their legal cases, but are viewed as children who need protection, she told Anchorage Daily News. She added that a major concern among the young people she’s worked with was having the ability to decline medication and residential treatment.
Under the new order, youth in foster care will now have their lawyers represent their wishes when they refuse residential or psychiatric treatment, are themselves parents, want their therapy records private, or are on “runaway status” from a foster home.
Previously foster youth had a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed neutral party to advocate for a child’s best interest. However, what the guardian ad litem sees as the best interest of the child doesn’t always align with what the child wants, according to Metivier. This is when the court appointed attorney would advocate for the child’s interest.
Foster youth will also have the right to be informed when court hearings are happening so they may be present and be able to participate.
Some advocates have said Alaska judges have continued to fall short when appointing attorneys to represent foster children’s wishes in court. A spokesperson from the state’s court system, Rebecca Koford, said that these new rules provide more direction to the court system and those involved. The Alaska Supreme Court ordered these rules to go into effect Oct. 17.