Violence in Foster Care System Very Rare, Safety Nets in Place

KSKA DJ Marvell Johnson was killed this week by his foster son. But state officials with the foster care system stress that events like this are extremely rare and they have systems in place to keep foster parents and children safe.

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Director of Juvenile Justice Karen Forrest says they work with both families and young people before placing a child in a home.

The foster parents “get an opportunity to review the entire file of the youth. And they also spend time with the youth and interview that young person. So there’s lots of discussion to determine whether or not it’s a good match.”

Then the Department of Juvenile Justice follows up with weekly contact and provides training on trauma care and parenting explosive children.

Director of the Office of Children Services Christy Lawton says foster parents are trained to work with young people who have experienced trauma and may act out. She says OCS cannot always do pre-interviews with families because of their case load, but they do tell foster families and schools if the child could pose any risks to them or their pets. They also provide a support network, including court appointed advocates. Lawton says the benefits of being a foster parent far out weigh the risks.

“You’re taking in often very vulnerable children and youth who’ve been through indescribable pain and trauma in many cases. So to be able to be a good shepherd to them and to mentor and to provide the kind of structure and nurture that they may never have experienced before — I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to be able to fill that role.”

Marvell Johnson was a foster parent for over 15 years and helped hundreds of youth. Lawton says they are reaching out to the foster care community to help them through this loss. The agencies say only two other incidences of violence against foster parents have been reported in the last two decades. Currently there are about 2,200 kids in foster care in Alaska.