The death of a Wasilla woman Alaska State Troopers say was stabbed by one of her foster children Monday is raising questions about the state's foster care system.
Murder and attempted-murder charges were filed Tuesday against 19-year-old Kenneth Adams, who was in the care of the foster couple -- 66-year-old Mollie Ragonesi and Daniel Ramsey, who was critically injured -- he stands accused of attacking.
The tragedy has some folks asking why Adams was even in foster care past the adult age of 18. But in Alaska's foster care system, dozens of young men and women are between the age 18 and 21.
Youth advocates were quick to say each case is unique, and that extra time in foster care can make a real difference for many in those transitional ages.
When you compare children living in traditional homes to those placed in foster homes, former foster kid Amanda Metivier says Alaska's foster kids are more likely to end up on public assistance or in jail if they're not prepared for life after foster care.
"It's a bigger cost to society to release youth at 18 and say, 'Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and go out and get a job,' because when you never had a stable family life you're bounced around family homes," Metivier said.
Being in foster care past the age of 18 is actually more common than you might think. Out of the more than 2,100 youth who are in foster care in Alaska, half live in Anchorage -- and 71 of them are currently age 18 or older.
Foster children can age out of the system at 18, but state law requires them to remain in the system if they don't have their high-school diploma or GED.
At the age of 19, foster care becomes voluntary, with regulations allowing youth to have a safety net of state-funded resources through the Office of Children's Services until the age of 21.
"If it doesn't work out -- maybe their housing falls through, they end up homeless -- they have the option to come back to OCS and say, 'I want to come back to custody,'" Metivier said. "And they can reenter foster care, with the agreement that they are going to get an education or get a job."
Those who work with foster kids at organizations like Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, which offers consultation, mental health services and job readiness skills to those in the foster care community, say not every foster child is ready to strike out on their own at 18.
"Really, they are bridging their childhood into adulthood, but they are not quite skilled enough yet to function as an adult," said Dee Foster, ACMHS' director of child and family services.
"That can involve counseling, family therapy, training and education," said Joshua Arvidson, director of the Child Trauma Center at ACMHS. "You just want to help them have the best life that they can have and live to their full potential."
Foster care offers the potential to turn kids into responsible adults, who are learning through adversity to achieve their goals.
"Eventually they are going to leave our systems, they are going to rely on people in the community," Metivier said.
Metivier says the community as a whole can help with that goal. For some that may mean fostering kids in their home, while others might consider chances to mentor through community programs. She also asks business owners and managers to consider employing foster children when they have employment openings.