OCS grievance process needs public review

On Aug. 1, 2015, Quinton Chandler, with KBBI radio published “North Pole lawmaker seeks investigation into the state Office of Children’s Services.”

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, reported that she’s heard hundreds of problematic stories, many with common elements: caseworkers removing children without evidence of a threat to safety, not giving biological families priority when placing children in a new home, and constantly changing criteria for families to regain custody of their children. Wilson says, “They take the children for just an allegation and we can’t even figure out how they’re substantiating it. We do know that once an allegation is made, it becomes the parents’ obligation to prove that it didn’t happen.”

In 2012, the Alaska Ombudsman published investigation report J2011-0222, regarding OCS’s grievance process. The ombudsman found 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 2013 the ombudsman published another report A2013-0776, regarding the Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”) Background Check Program (“BCP”). The program, created by law in 2005, established background check requirements for persons and entities licensed or certified by DHSS, or eligible to receive payments from DHSS to care for individuals served by Department programs. Between 2007 and March 2012, DHSS has permanently banned individuals from employment if the applicant had a substantiated finding of abuse or neglect by OCS.

In both reports the ombudsman explains that a 2006 settlement in U.S. District Court in which Mark Ruby asserted that OCS had denied him due process for failure to properly notify him of a substantiated finding of child abuse and his right to an appeal. The lawsuit led to a settlement in which OCS agreed to adopt regulations to provide increased due process protections, including a formal appeal procedure to contest a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect.

OCS implemented regulatory changes in December 2006. In order to address the fact that the grievance procedure did not actually contain any significant rules of procedure, section 215 was inserted to allow grievances in cases of substantiated findings who wished to call witnesses and present evidence to forgo the grievance procedure and simply take their cases to the Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative judge would hear the case, and present a proposed decision to the Commissioner of Health and Social Services for action.

Tammie Wilson publicly called for a grand jury investigation regarding removal and placement of children. However, reading the specifics of the ombudsman reports they clearly demonstrate that even after the U.S. District Court settlement, all forms of OCS’s grievance process remain unreasonably administered. My personal experience with the OAH process compounded the OCS’s grievance process, there is no due process! Tammie Wilson needs to honor her August 2015 public announcement calling for a Grand Jury Investigation. First, read the ombudsman reports!