Legislature(2017 - 2018)HOUSE FINANCE 519
04/13/2017 01:30 PM FINANCE
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HOUSE BILL NO. 151 "An Act relating to the duties of the Department of Health and Social Services; relating to training and workload standards for employees of the Department of Health and Social Services; relating to foster care licensing; relating to placement of a child in need of aid; relating to the rights and responsibilities of foster parents; relating to subsidies for adoption or guardianship of a child in need of aid; requiring the Department of Health and Social Services to provide information to a child or person released from the department's custody; and providing for an effective date." 4:19:38 PM REPRESENTATIVE LES GARA, SPONSOR explained detail about the need for the bill. He stressed it was not prudent to have youth see a different foster parent. The bill was a fix to try to make the system work. Without the bill the negative consequences would continue to occur. He stressed the state could not keep doing it. He remarked a caseworker could handle about 12 to 15 cases - they could not handle the number of cases they currently had. The caseworkers on average in the Wasilla office handled 43 families; in other areas the caseload was double what it should be. 4:28:17 PM Vice-Chair Gara continued to address the bill. in New Jersey, which many people saw as the gold standard, they gave 6 to 8 weeks of training to caseworkers. Alaska did about 2 to 3 weeks. The bill specified Alaska should do 6 to 8 weeks. The caseloads of new caseworkers were limited to prevent burnout. He stated things went on too long at OCS because it was an agency in crisis. He provided a scenario where foster parents had quit because of problems. 4:35:21 PM Vice-Chair Gara continued to address the bill. He could not in good conscience recommend leaving the system the same. A child did not deserve to be bounced between homes. He thought the fiscal note would be $12 million to $15 million and he had been nervous. However, due to federal funds and other, the fiscal note would be approximately $5 million. Part of the bill had to be dropped. He continued that there were youth who were 18 to 20 who did not have homes. Some of those kids would end up in a permanent home, but at $7.8 million it was not the best use of money, which hurt to say. The fiscal note would disappear. 4:39:08 PM Vice-Chair Gara addressed the original fiscal note for caseworkers to meet the standard - he had worked with the department that had been trying to determine the federal matching rate. He planned to introduce to raise the caseload standard to 13 to come up with an affordable fiscal note. It would still be far superior to the current caseloads. He reiterated the changes that would mean roughly $4.2 million for caseworkers and training. Some office space and equipment would come with that as well. A caseworker was supposed to look out to see if a family member could care for the child; often the family member would become the adoptive parent. The bill would require a supervisor to double check if a family member was available. 4:42:32 PM Representative Wilson agreed there was a problem. She pointed to page 5, lines 16 to 20 of the bill. She asked who determined appropriate placement. Vice-Chair Gara replied that the placement standard was about what was the best interest for the child. Representative Wilson asked for the statutory definition of "best interest for a child." Vice-Chair Gara did not know the statutory definition. // He deferred to the department for detail. CHRISTY LAWTON, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES, did not have the definition on hand. She would follow up. 4:47:20 PM Representative Wilson placed concerns on the record related to the fiscal note. She wondered why there was not a fiscal note from the Public Defenders' Agency and other. She was also concerned about qualifications of workers. She wondered how the bill would impact supervised visits. 4:50:27 PM Vice-Chair Gara spoke to the fiscal notes for the other departments - there were a shortage of guardians. He knew of at least one caseworker who had not known looking for a family member was a part of their job. Representative Wilson was not debating that portion. She did not believe all of the people who would be hired. She addressed complaints that came in. There was a possibility more investigations were done. It had happened in the past. She was not stating the issue was right or wrong. 4:55:01 PM Vice-Chair Gara stated that the first sixty days that the child was in foster care were assigned an assessment worker who was required to develop a case plan. That person often did not have time to meet with the parents. He hoped that the caseload standard would be 13 cases. Ms. Lawton elaborated stated that the reduction of case loads and the addition of staff would allow for more visitation, because those workers could potentially have time to supervise some of those visits, with the possible flexibility in the parent home. Representative Wilson asked how many investigations were currently investigated. Ms. Lawton asked for clarification. Representative Wilson clarified her question. Ms. Lawton answered the department screened roughly 10,000. 5:00:06 PM Representative Pruitt asked how to deal with the additional burden of new requirements. Vice-Chair Gara replied that the bill aimed to lessen bill. He had never spoken to his first foster family and had been taught that he was not supposed to maintain contact with them. He regretted it. 5:03:23 PM Representative Pruitt looked at Section 10, and queried the roll of psychological parents and grandparents as it related to foster families. Vice-Chair Gara asked for further clarification. Representative Pruitt relayed that there was a case of the psychological grandparents rejecting children. Co-Chair Foster handed the gavel to Representative Kawasaki. Vice-Chair Gara that the section tried to limit the number of children removed from their family. He provided a scenario where a grandparent lived at home. Section 10 specified the child should be allowed to remain at home. 5:07:25 PM Representative Pruitt spoke to trying to determine the definition of family member. Vice-Chair Gara answered there was no attempt in the bill to change the definition of family member. HB 151 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration. Representative Kawasaki addressed the schedule for the following day. Representative Wilson asked about the amendment due date. 5:10:00 PM AT EASE 5:12:36 PM RECONVENED Vice-Chair Gara relayed he would aim to remove the portion related to adoption subsidies and changing caseworker standards to 13 instead of 12. Representative Wilson wondered whether the statutes would be based on appropriation to meet that standard. Vice-Chair Gara replied that the fiscal note would reflect the actual cost for meeting the caseload. Co-Chair Foster communicated amendments would be due by noon on Saturday. He addressed the schedule for the following day. He recessed the meeting to a call of the chair [note: the meeting never reconvened].