Hold OCS accountable

On January 9, 2006, Lisa Demer, with Anchorage Daily News wrote “No day in court” reporting about a settlement agreement in U.S. District Court between the Alaska Office of Children’s Services and Mark Ruby. In that article Lisa wrote; “hundreds of Alaska parent have been labeled as abusive or neglectful by state investigators, many of them without ever getting a chance to defend themselves in court.”

Lisa explains how OCS agreed to create a new procedure to ensure people are treated fairly; in part by making sure they know of the abuse or neglect finding and how to appeal it. Those that want to challenge newly issued abuse or neglect findings can choose between the existing grievance procedure or an independent review by the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Lisa added that the state will be able to tap into abuse and neglect histories even more efficiently, under a law that passed in 2005. “The state must create a central abuse registry where all the histories will be recorded, along with cases of exploitation, medical assistance fraud and mistreatment of the elderly,” quoting Stacie Kraly, chief assistant attorney general.

Fast forward to June 2012 the Alaska Ombudsman published report (J2012-0222) declaring that OCS has administered its grievance procedure under 7 AAC 54.205 – 240 unreasonable. Specifically stating that OCS “has not carried out the grievance process in a fair and efficient manner, has not adequately notified citizens of the process, has not responded consistently to grievances filed by citizens, and has not consistently responded to grievances in a timely or adequate manner.”

In February 2016 the Alaska Ombudsman published a second report (A2013-0776) declaring that the ‘Background Check Program Centralized Registry’ does not actually exist, and that it never has. Some eight years after the Legislature directed OCS to establish the registry, and some six years after the implementing regulations took effect, there is still no Centralized Registry. The ombudsman makes five allegations in that report. Describing the challenges citizens face while appealing a substantiated abuse or neglect allegation.

On August 2, 2016 I received a reply to an email I sent Representative Paul Seaton who is the ‘House Chair for the Health and Social Services Committee’. Mr. Seaton wrote; “The reports you mention were brought to my attention at the end of the most recent regular session. The administration had a bill that was in part aimed at addressing the issues of the ‘Centralized Registry’ and the ‘Barrier Conditions’, but the Ombudsman’s office had concerns with how the bill was written and pointed at language that would likely make the situation even worse. At that point in the session, there was not enough time left for the legislature to give the bill the time. This is an issue I intend to review and work with the ombudsman and the administration on fixing.”

According to Lisa Demer in 2006 these issues were fixed back then. Mr. Seaton said the ombudsman reports were brought to his attention at the end of the most recent regular session. What is really going on?