Legislature(1997 - 1998)
03/05/1998 03:30 PM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HOUSE HEALTH, EDUCATION AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE March 5, 1998 3:30 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Representative Con Bunde, Chairman Representative Joe Green, Vice Chairman Representative Brian Porter Representative Fred Dyson Representative J. Allen Kemplen Representative Tom Brice MEMBERS ABSENT Representative Al Vezey COMMITTEE CALENDAR * HOUSE BILL NO. 375 "An Act relating to children in need of aid matters and proceedings; relating to murder of children, criminally negligent homicide, kidnapping, criminal nonsupport, the crime of indecent exposure, and the crime of endangering the welfare of a child; relating to registration of certain sex offenders; relating to sentencing for certain crimes involving child victims; relating to the state medical examiner and reviews of child fatalities; relating to teacher certification and convictions of crimes involving child victims; relating to access, confidentiality, and release of certain information concerning the care of children, child abuse and neglect, and child fatalities; authorizing the Department of Health and Social Services to enter into an interstate compact concerning adoption and medical assistance for certain children with special needs; authorizing the establishment of a multidisciplinary child protection team to review reports of child abuse or neglect; relating to immunity from liability for certain state actions concerning matters involving child protection and fatality reviews and children in need of aid; relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse or neglect; relating to foster care placement and to payment for children in foster and other care and the waiver of certain foster care requirements; relating to the access to certain criminal justice information and licensure of certain child care facilities; amending Rule 218, Alaska Rules of Appellate Procedure; amending Rules 1, 3, 15, 18, and 19, Alaska Child in Need of Aid Rules; and providing for an effective date." - HEARD AND HELD (* First public hearing) PREVIOUS ACTION BILL: HB 375 SHORT TITLE: CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE SPONSOR(S): RULES BY REQUEST OF THE GOVERNOR Jrn-Date Jrn-Page Action 02/02/98 2200 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRAL(S) 02/02/98 2201 (H) HES, JUDICIARY, FINANCE 02/02/98 2201 (H) INDETERMINATE FN (GOV/VARIOUS DEPTS) 02/02/98 2201 (H) GOVERNOR'S TRANSMITTAL LETTER 02/26/98 (H) HES AT 3:00 PM CAPITOL 106 02/26/98 (H) MINUTE(HES) 03/03/98 (H) HES AT 3:00 PM CAPITOL 106 03/03/98 (H) MINUTE(HES) 03/05/98 (H) HES AT 3:00 PM CAPITOL 106 WITNESS REGISTER KAREN PERDUE, Commissioner Department of Health & Social Services P.O. Box 110601 Juneau, Alaska 99811-0601 Telephone: (907) 465-3030 POSITION STATEMENT: Presented comments and an overview of HB 375. RUSSELL WEBB, Deputy Commissioner Department of Health & Social Services P.O. Box 110601 Juneau, Alaska 99811-0601 Telephone: (907) 465-3030 POSITION STATEMENT: Presented comments and an overview of HB 375. SUSAN G. WIBKER, Assistant Attorney General Human Services Section, Civil Division Department of Law 1031 West 4th Avenue, Suite 200 Anchorage, Alaska 99501-1994 Telephone: (907) 269-5100 POSITION STATEMENT: Presented an overview of the Division of Family and Youth Services portion of HB 375. WALTER GAUTHIER Box 2246 Homer, Alaska 99603 Telephone: (907) 235-2809 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. EUGENE ALTIG 4396 Al Cory Road North Pole, Alaska 99705 Telephone: (907) 488-4216 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. SUZETTE GRAHAM P.O. Box 383 Kenai, Alaska 99611 Telephone: (907) 776-8658 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. BLAIR MCCUNE, Deputy Director Public Defender Agency Department of Administration 900 West 5th Avenue, Suite 200 Anchorage, Alaska 99501-0290 Telephone: (907) 264-4400 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. MICHAEL COONS, Paramedic P.O. Box 4229 Palmer, Alaska 99645 Telephone: (907) 745-6779 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. DIANA BUFFINGTON, President and State Coordinator Children's Rights Council of Alaska; and Chairman, Alaska Task Force on Family Law Reform 314 Maple Street Kodiak, Alaska 99615 Telephone: (907) 486-2290 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. HARRY NIEHAUS P.O. Box 55455 North Pole, Alaska 99705 Telephone: (907) 488-9328 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. CINDY HOUSER, Foster parent HC 2, Box 596 Kasilof, Alaska 99610 Telephone: (907) 262-7937 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. JOHNNY GRAMES, Representative DADS-Alaska P.O. Box 100827 Anchorage, Alaska 99510 Telephone: (907) 274-3237 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. MARCI SCHMIDT, Representative Parents United for Custodial Justice 2040 Fishhook Wasilla, Alaska 99654 Telephone: (907) 357-3618 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. SCOTT CALDER P.O. Box 73893 Fairbanks, Alaska 99707 Telephone: (907) 456-2866 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. BRADLEY LAYBOURN 700 North Wasilla Fishhook Road Wasilla, Alaska 99654 Telephone: (907) 373-7786 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in opposition to HB 375. CAROL PALMER, Representative Parents United for Custodial Justice P.O. Box 2402 Palmer, Alaska 99645 Telephone: (907) 746-2863 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. MARVIN BERGESON, M.D. Tanana Valley Clinic 1001 Noble Street Fairbanks, Alaska 99701 Telephone: (907) 459-3520 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HB 375. GARY MAXWELL 733 West 4th Avenue Anchorage, Alaska 99501 Telephone: (907) 277-1283 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. SUZANNE GOODRICH 191918 Jaime Drive Eagle River, Alaska 99577 Telephone: (907) 277-2554 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. MARTHA HODSON P.O. Box 3687 Soldotna, Alaska 99669 Telephone: (907) 260-9156 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified on HB 375. ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 98-20, SIDE A Number 0001 CHAIRMAN CON BUNDE reconvened the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee meeting at 3:30 p.m. Members present were Representatives Bunde, Green, Porter, Dyson, Kemplen and Brice. Representative Vezey was absent. HB 375 - CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN/FOSTER CARE CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the committee would begin considered HB 375, "An Act relating to children in need of aid matters and proceedings; relating to murder of children, criminally negligent homicide, kidnapping, criminal nonsupport, the crime of indecent exposure, and the crime of endangering the welfare of a child; relating to registration of certain sex offenders; relating to sentencing for certain crimes involving child victims; relating to the state medical examiner and reviews of child fatalities; relating to teacher certification and convictions of crimes involving child victims; relating to access, confidentiality, and release of certain information concerning the care of children, child abuse and neglect, and child fatalities; authorizing the Department of Health and Social Services to enter into an interstate compact concerning adoption and medical assistance for certain children with special needs; authorizing the establishment of a multidisciplinary child protection team to review reports of child abuse or neglect; relating to immunity from liability for certain state actions concerning matters involving child protection and fatality reviews and children in need of aid; relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse or neglect; relating to foster care placement and to payment for children in foster and other care and the waiver of certain foster care requirements; relating to the access to certain criminal justice information and licensure of certain child care facilities; amending Rule 218, Alaska Rules of Appellate Procedure; amending Rules 1, 3, 15, 18, and 19, Alaska Child in Need of Aid Rules; and providing for an effective date." He noted that Commissioner Perdue would outline the Administration's suggested changes to deal with child abuse by presenting an overview. The meeting was being teleconferenced to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Homer, Kodiak and Mat-Su. He asked Commissioner Perdue to begin her overview. Number 0110 KAREN PERDUE, Commissioner, Department of Health & Social Services, said she planned a 15-minute overview of some of the studies and audits the division completed which led to the drafting of the child protection legislation, and would then proceed with the actual overview of HB 375. Number 0159 COMMISSIONER PERDUE explained that graphic 1 shows the division received 15,547 reports of harm, representing about 10,638 children in FY 97. The screening process screened out about 1,279 which were just not appropriate for the child protection agency, leaving 10,529 cases. She directed the committee's attention to the adjusted workload of 3,739 cases which she wanted to discuss. The division, in conjunction with the court, takes custody of about 8 percent of the children that are brought to the division's attention in any one year. She said one of the questions in front of the committee is where should the custody line be drawn. She suggested that perhaps the custody line is too conservative; in other words, the division is not going into enough cases and taking custody of children. Of those children who do come into the custody of the system, almost all of them go home, which is as it should be. But there are children who cannot return home and for whom there needs to be permanent placement. Number 0293 COMMISSIONER PERDUE continued graphic 2 indicates that 58 percent of the calls received are neglect, 27 percent are physical abuse, 13 percent are sexual abuse and the remaining 2 percent are other. Nearly 70 percent of all reports of harm received by the division involve children under ten years of age; a good percentage begin at the age of six when children start school. Number 0359 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said when she came into her position as commissioner, her perception was that a lot of the calls came from older children, especially the sexual abuse reports. However, the largest number of reports of harm for sexual abuse involve children under ten years of age. Number 0402 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said graphic 5 depicts the mandated reporters of harm in 1997 with school teachers being the number 1 mandated reporters to the division. A large number are anonymous callers, and she believes it is important to protect the anonymity of people calling. The division receives a number of calls from relatives, as well as doctors. Number 0454 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said the division has seen a major increase, about 13 percent, in the number of reports of harm since July 1997 and a 60 percent increase in custody filings. She was of the opinion that public awareness of child abuse as well as the system becoming more acutely attuned to child safety has contributed to the increase in reportings. There's a record number 1,600 children in state custody, but over the last six months, 1,655 reports that should have been investigated were screened out due to the workload. She enthusiastically reported the division is at the highest staffing level in seven years with only 12 social worker vacancies statewide. Number 0532 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said in identifying some key issues in the system, she began with the 1992 legislative audit, the divisions's last legislative audit, which pointed out a number of issues regarding the structure of the division. The division had been reorganized in 1991 into a regional structure, and in looking at it now, the commissioner believed it was done with the very best of intentions, but a number of things have occurred. First, there are blurred lines of responsibility and authority so that no one person was in charge of child protection and no one person in charge of youth corrections. She believed that over time, that has caused the system to build up inconsistencies between regions and some lack of accountability. The audit also pointed out the division lost between five and ten direct line service staff, which began the process where less and less calls were being investigated. Number 0643 COMMISSIONER PERDUE continued the division established an internal evaluation, research and development unit in 1996 to do ongoing, consistent audits of the functions. Over the next two years, she requested five separate internal reviews of the division trying to determine what was going on and to identify changes that would be most productive. The five audits included targeted reviews of the Anchorage office. After an administrative review of the Anchorage office, it was determined that each and every open case in the Anchorage area would be looked at and the University of Washington was brought in to complete that project. A defining moment in her time as commissioner was the death of a child in Fairbanks, at which time she and other cabinet members asked for an investigation to determine what could have been done differently. In August, Judge Reese ordered that five cases be opened to the public and reviewed. She asked the Kempe Center, a national center of experts in child abuse and neglect, to review those five cases to determine if there were some common elements in those cases. Also, as a result of that effort, an audit referred to as the 6+ review was conducted of each and every child in the system statewide that had six or more reports of harm in the last three years. Some very basic questions were asked in the 6+ review: 1) Are these children safe; 2) was each report of harm accurately assessed; and 3) was appropriate action taken to assure the safety of those children? Number 0783 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said it was mind boggling to her that six or more reports of harm had been reported to the division for 838 children in 475 families, but these children were not in state custody. Divisional line workers were asked to go to the various sites and review the files, which in some cases were as long as a file drawer. It was a very time consuming task, involving about 1200 staff hours over a six week period. This review revealed that 78 cases involving 131 children needed further investigation. Home visits were done on each of these cases and children in six of the cases were taken into state custody. Commissioner Perdue said the audit was a defining issue in that it helped to understand just how many children were in a situation of being reported to the division multiple times and were the necessary policies and laws in place to protect those children. Number 0862 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said the audit revealed some disturbing problems. Chronic substance abuse was a factor in more than 80 percent of child abuse or neglect cases and domestic violence was a factor in nearly 60 percent of the cases; were workers adequately equipped to deal with the issue of substance abuse and the chronicity of it; what was the policy of going into the home and finding substance abuse but not finding children necessarily with broken bones, bruises, et cetera; was there enough interfacing with the domestic violence and police community on the domestic violence issues; and too many reports of harm were never investigated, even among the most serious at risk children. Number 0910 COMMISSIONER PERDUE referred to the next chart showing information from the audit and said basically, the division had had a policy of workload adjusting, which probably made some sense when it was implemented. Workload adjusting meant getting to the most serious cases first; e.g., if there was too much work in a day, the staff would try to take care of children who were most in trouble. She explained that over time, cases in the lower priority level 3 were never responded to in some offices. For example, of the case samples in the northern region, there were about 3,235 reports of harm, but only 53 percent of those reports on the children looked at were actually investigated. So, even in the most serious cases, over 20 percent of the reports of harm that came in on those children were not looked into. A review of the total system revealed that was the case for about 25 percent of the reports of harm received. She said that most of these were neglect cases, and the division learned that what the reporter was reporting was not necessarily what was happening to the child; the situation could have been better or worse. She said this is a very serious situation because the safety of the children cannot be guaranteed. She was aware that many jurisdictions do a triage system, but the level of the workload adjusting was beyond her comfort level. Number 1018 COMMISSIONER PERDUE pointed out that AS 47.17.030 states "The Department shall, for each report received, investigate and take action ... that may be necessary to prevent further harm to the child or ensure the proper care and protection of the child." She said that clearly is not being done. That is where the philosophy of zero tolerance came about and that resources do need to be expended to investigate each report. She asked Russ Webb to discuss the other areas discovered in the audits. Number 1046 RUSSELL WEBB, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Health & Social Services, said the audit findings were clear there was a lack of consistent practice between regions of the state and that the child protection system, based on its organizational structure, was not really managed as a system, but as three separate systems which resulted in three different sets of practices. Additionally, it was found that record keeping of case documentation was not adequate; some of which had to do with lack of time on the part of staff, high workload and inadequate training. A lack of coordination was found between and among agencies with child protection system responsibilities; there was clearly a need to better share information available so that good decisions can be made; and a need for regular mechanisms and protocols for agency coordination. The audit also revealed that a "single event" approach to child protection was being taken among division staff; i.e., the focus was too limited in determining the substantiation of a particular allegation rather than looking at the cumulative risk. Also, as mentioned previously, was the overlap in substance abuse and domestic violence. Number 1147 MR. WEBB said, "Not mentioned on this, but I think critical and something we'll get to later on is what we found out about our laws - that really the laws drive the practice in many respects and there are some real limits in terms of practice, based on the laws we have today." He discussed the staffing situation, which has been an issue, but the division is in better shape today with only three budgeted vacancies than it has been since 1992. Admittedly, there has been high turnover and vacancy in child protection for quite some time, which is not unusual given that it's stressful work, made more stressful by lack of training and high workloads. Number 1216 MR. WEBB stated the audit also pointed out that Alaska's caseloads certainly exceed the national standards established by the Child Welfare League, which impacts the practice and the ability to intervene and protect children. Also, he has seen the training system created and destroyed on a couple of occasions. Inadequate training of staff makes practice not as effective as it should be, and a good, comprehensive training system did not exist the last few years. The expectations of supervisors have not been clearly defined and there wasn't a good system of supervisory quality assurance. He commented the world is a different place than it was 25 years ago when he entered child protection work. Case workers now go into some very unsafe places and situations. Also, the audit revealed there is clearly a shortage of foster homes and other residential care placements. As the juvenile facilities have become overcrowded, the residential child care facilities are being utilized for delinquent children, making foster homes critical for children in need of aid. Adequate training has not been made available for foster parents and there's been no respite care provided. He stressed the importance of case workers making regular contact with foster parents and having time to provide support to foster parents. Number 1345 MR. WEBB said that delays in the court process and in the case work process prevent the division from getting children out of the system and into safe, permanent homes as quickly as it should. He said, "Right now, as I understand it in Anchorage, even if you are prepared to move towards termination of parental rights based on long standing facts, if you try to schedule a hearing today it will be a year from now before you will actually try that case." In the life of a child, that's way too long. Number 1375 COMMISSIONER PERDUE directed the committee's attention to a document listing 400 children in state custody who probably would not be going home; these are children legally free for adoption having very high needs or children in a status where reasonable efforts have been made and the state is now moving towards guardianship or termination of parental rights. Barriers these children have often include fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects; they are not simple children to place. She said this points out there are children languishing in foster care who really need to move on into safe, loving homes; many of the children are in safe, loving homes now, but their permanence is not guaranteed. In fact, one of the concerns foster parents have is if they raise the issue legally, the children will be returned home. She said, "This is evidence of the fact that we do have children stuck in our system right now who we need to both invest the resources legally in getting them freed, invest them in the adoption efforts, which we are doing now with Catholic Social Services, and we've got some travel entities helping us find adoptive homes and then also looking at our legal system to see how the laws work." If this isn't done, the foster system will continue to grow as more children come into the system. Number 1471 COMMISSIONER PERDUE said other problems the division has identified is that police officers and others in the community say that children are left at risk too long. Certainly with children who are reported multiple times, the question continues to be, "how long is it safe to leave a child in a home?" Often in helping parents with substance abuse for instance, the children are returned immediately to the parent once treatment has been completed without adequate after care and support for the parent, so the children end up coming back into the system. She sensed there was a feeling in the system that in some cases too much of the division's resources were being spent on making "reasonable efforts" for some families year after year. Number 1522 COMMISSIONER PERDUE stated, "And then finally, a fact that we discovered as we were working through some of this material, was that some child fatalities caused by child abuse and neglect were not going detected in our state. In fact, we had evidence to believe that approximately between 6 and 15 child deaths had occurred in just infants from the years 1992 - 1995 that were not brought to the attention of the authorities and prosecuted." COMMISSIONER PERDUE said she felt overwhelmed by the amount of issues when the audit was completed. She cautioned that when looking at change, it's important to get strategic and focus on those things that will make the most difference. With that she began to address HB 375. As mentioned earlier, children's deaths were going undetected because there was no mechanism in place; in fact, Alaska was the only state that didn't have a child fatality review team. She asked Mr. Webb to update the committee on what's been done so far. Number 1596 MR. WEBB said that a permanent child fatality review team was established last May through the office of the state medical examiner with a law enforcement officer, state trooper, prosecutor and a child protection worker involved as part of that multi- disciplinary review process. Since July the team has looked at 61 deaths, identified 8 homicides, 10 suicides, 12 children who died of natural causes, and 31 accidental deaths. House Bill 375 establishes the child fatality review team in statute. He explained that it was established under existing law, but it needs to be cleaned up. Number 1635 CHAIRMAN BUNDE recalled a couple of years ago a team reviewing sudden infant deaths and their comments indicating there were probably more homicides than accidental deaths, but people on the team were prevented from reporting these homicides. He was optimistic the child fatality review team would not be in a similar situation. MR. WEBB responded, "In part, this was designed to resolve that problem and the person who removed himself from that team is a member this team." REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER inquired if there had been a situation whereby an individual was aware of a homicide and was somehow precluded by law from reporting it. MR. WEBB replied, "They were retrospective reviews of child deaths over a period of years; they were identified long after the fact as being suspected at this point; weren't identified initially; based on the facts, as the team gathered all those facts, under existing law now, a review established under law with rules of confidentially statutorily which enables them to gain information that they couldn't otherwise gain, were precluded from using that information outside for those prosecutorial purposes and other purposes. That was a problem." CHAIRMAN BUNDE remarked he had been outraged when he had heard about the situation. The individual who resigned from the team was a police officer. Number 1717 COMMISSIONER PERDUE believed that more child deaths would be discovered and while it may be shocking, the system is working to uncover things that may have previously gone undetected. COMMISSIONER PERDUE advised the committee that the agency had been restructured to improve the accountability. The restructuring was aided by the passage last year of HB 6 which divided the juvenile code and the child code into two separate areas. The division believes in zero tolerance; in other words, all reports of harm checked out. To that end, the division is considering triple-track pilot projects which allow the agency to work with community agencies to investigate some of the less-risk cases and the addition of staff workers to check out the reports. She noted the division has identified federal funds to request to fund most of the additional workers. The division is working with the Child Welfare League of America Center for Excellence to train and assist supervisors. She noted the division, in partnership with the University of Alaska Southeast, established the family services training academy to improve training programs. COMMISSIONER PERDUE said the multi-disciplinary teams established in HB 375 should improve teamwork which was previously discussed. Also, workers have better and faster access to criminal records and family abuse histories. Number 1844 COMMISSIONER PERDUE stated the division had requested that the Kempe Children's Center include an attorney in the review of the five cases previously mentioned. The attorney heading up the American Bar Association's Children Section found that "Alaska statutes are more narrowly drawn in certain respects than those of almost any other state." Additionally, his findings concluded that in order for child abuse to have occurred in this state, a child would have to have suffered substantial physical harm or imminent and substantial risk that the child will suffer harm. Number 1890 CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Susan Wibker from the Department of Law to provide her overview at this time. Number 1903 SUSAN G. WIBKER, Assistant Attorney General, Human Services Section, Civil Division, Department of Law, said she was temporarily assigned to work with Commissioner Perdue on child custody issues. She stated her remarks will focus on the Division of Family and Youth Services (DFYS) portion of the bill and Dean Guaneli from the criminal division was available to answer questions pertaining to the criminal portion of HB 375. She said Sec. 47.05.090 on page 21 authorizes the state to join the Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance. The statutory authorization being requested is to allow the state of Alaska to join thirty-seven other states who have become part of a compact to accept each state's medical eligibility determinations on hard to adopt children. This is part of the overall thrust of HB 375 to achieve faster, safe, permanent placements for children. She explained that currently if a special needs child from Alaska is adopted to a family in another state, or if a special needs child is adopted in Alaska and the adoptive family moves to another state, the Medicaid eligibility for that child ends in Alaska and reapplication has to be made through the other state. This compact allows states to honor the Medicaid eligibility of the other states. Number 1993 MS. WIBKER pointed out this results in a negative fiscal note because currently Alaska is accepting the Medicaid eligibility determination of special needs children from other states who are being adopted by Alaskans. There are currently 256 Alaskan children adopted into other states who are in out-of-state homes. If HB 375 passes, Alaska would stop subsidizing those adoptions and the state where the child resides would pick up the Medicaid eligibility. In short, Alaska is paying for the kids coming in, but if Alaska joins this compact, other states will pay for Alaskan kids going out of state. Number 2034 MS. WIBKER referred to Sec. 47.10.010, and said it's a statement about jurisdiction and the actual change in what defines a child in need of aid comes in 47.10.011. She had heard the myth that the state is trying to double the number of children taken into state custody in that there were previously 6 grounds to take state custody and under HB 375, there are 12. She argued the state is not trying to double the number of children in state custody, but rather attempting to more precisely define the situations where the state should be involved in the families' lives. She pointed out there are about four different factual situations under the definition of abandonment in existing statute AS 47.10.010. A series of recent Supreme Court opinions have strongly advised the law be amended because the abandonment statute was not protecting children. She said, "We were getting legal results that were contrary to legislative intent." She pointed out the first four grounds for jurisdiction - abandonment, incarceration, a child that has been left with someone and not picked up, and children who are habitually absent from home or refuse to go home - were all lumped together under old law. Number 2092 CHAIRMAN BUNDE said that parents frequently express frustration about runaways in their early teens but it was his understanding that under HB 375, the child could be considered a child in need of aid and the parents would have an opportunity to use legal authorities to keep the child from running. MS. WIBKER explained there is one entire statute that deals with runaways. House Bill 375 more narrowly defines the situations where the state would take legal custody of a child. She noted there are runaways who run away for good reason and there are runaways who run away for no good reason and explained, "what we did in defining under number 4, the runaways - it's legitimate for the state to step in and take custody as a child in need of aid - we restricted the definition to those cases where the runaway conduct is actually threatening the child's physical or emotion health." Number 2135 CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked if a parent feels that the young child by running away is threatening his/her physical and mental health, can the parent issue the complaint that the child is in need of aid. MS. WIBKER responded yes, the parent could call the Division of Family and Youth Services and make a report of harm. She added that a parent can request the state to take custody of their child. MS. WIBKER continued that jurisdictional ground 5 is in existing statute, and is what's called medical neglect. For example, a child with a diagnosed medical condition and the parents are refusing to get treatment. There are some exceptions that would not allow the state to intervene, but this deals with a knowing failure to provide needed medical treatment to a child. It also provides for a knowing failure to provide treatment for an emotional condition in a child. She said that jurisdictional ground 6 goes directly to address the recommendations from the Kempe Center. She explained that under existing law, a child has to suffer substantial physical harm before the state could intervene or there had to be an imminent and substantial risk that the child would suffer harm. Commissioner Perdue had pointed out the problems associated with the harm having to be identifiable and immediate. To address the Kempe Center concern, HB 375 allows earlier intervention by the state. Number 2247 MS. WIBKER noted that jurisdictional ground 7 is sexual abuse and the language pretty much parallels the language for physical abuse, a child has suffered sexual abuse, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer sexual abuse. She pointed out that a number of the sexual abuse cases that end up in the state's custody are because one parent or one caretaker is the offender and the other parent or caretaker is nonsupportive of the child or is willing to allow the child to stay with the offender or visit the offender. The risks defined under jurisdiction can also be found in the criminal portion under the endangering of a child statute, so the poor supervision that puts a child at risk could also result in a criminal offense. Number 2287 MS. WIBKER said, "Jurisdictional ground 8 is emotional harm. These are the cases where it's not -- they may come into the system as emotional neglect where you have a parent not getting care for a child that's maybe hostile, aggressive or suicidal and what happens is the child gets the treatment they need and you find out that this child's condition is not going to change or get better unless something changes at home. The conclusion is that things are going on in the home that are creating this condition and all of the treatment in the world cannot fix the problem." Typically, these reports of harm come from places like Charter North Hospital where a child is being treated for setting fires, choking other children, et cetera, and the parents have dropped the child off and haven't been back. She said that under existing law, not a whole lot can be done about these children unless it qualifies as medical neglect. Under the proposed changes, the state would be able to do something, not only to make sure the child got the treatment but to do something so the parents participated and were actually were able to do something to adjust whatever ... TAPE 98-20, SIDE B Number 0001 MS. WIBKER .... that's contributing to the problem. Jurisdictional ground 9 is physical neglect, which is in existing statute, but is worded differently under HB 375. Jurisdictional ground 10 is the substance abuse. She said these children come into the state's custody very early in life and the usual report of harm is neglect. For example, the child is not coming to school, hunger, unsupervised, dirty, et cetera, and normally an investigation reveals the real problem is that parents are abusing substances. There is no reference to the problem of substance abuse under existing law and investigations have revealed that substance abuse exists in over 80 percent of the families of children in state custody. Under existing law, the only thing that could be done in a home where drugs or alcohol was being abused was to prove imminent and substantial risk of harm, which often means waiting until something bad happens. Thus, a provision was written in HB 375 that the ability to parent has been substantially impaired by the addictive or habitual use of intoxicants or controlled substances, including inhalants. Number 0064 MS. WIBKER said jurisdictional ground 11 deals with parents who are mentally ill. Often, these are cases where the parent is very willing and loving, but just not able to care for the children and a case worker will take custody of a child to make sure the parent gets the needed treatment and stays on prescribed medication. Many of these families require supervision to ensure the parent is doing what's needed to care for the child. Number 0088 MS. WIBKER said that jurisdictional ground 12 is not a change from existing law, which is the situation where parents are actually encouraging a child to commit delinquent acts. These children often come into the system with charges of delinquency or as children in need of aid. Number 0105 MS. WIBKER said some of the jurisdictional grounds actually narrow where the state can take custody, and the purpose of all of them is to try to reflect what's happening on the front line in the lives of social workers. The goal was to get away from vague statements, such as imminent and substantial risk, and draft the legislation to reflect what's being encountered every day. Number 0127 MS. WIBKER referred to Sec. 47.10.013, and said abandonment has been drafted with a more common sense definition. Under existing statute if there is a relative willing to care for the child, the child is not legally abandoned. She explained there were situations where one parent would move away and leave the child, but if an alcoholic relative was willing to care for the child, the child was not considered abandoned and parental rights couldn't be terminated so the child could be adopted in a permanent home. There was factual abandonment, but not legal abandonment. House Bill 375 separates that definition and makes it a more common sense definition. It requires a track record and abandonment of younger children is treated more seriously than older children. Federal law requires a faster system for getting permanent homes for abandoned children so the proposed legislation was drafted to allow a shorter time period for declaring abandonment for children under six years of age who have a critical need to attach and bond. Number 0177 MS. WIBKER directed the committee's attention to the change in wording from "minor" to "child" which is part of the separation of the code to distinguish the difference between children in need of aid and children in the juvenile delinquency system. Number 0210 MS. WIBKER said HB 375 proposes faster time lines, which is a federal and national trend, so that children are not languishing in out of home care forever. For example, a deadline for an adjudication hearing, which is the trial on the petition filed by the state, has been established. House Bill 375 proposes to adopt a federal law for child in need of aid proceedings to allow foster parents and people caring for children to receive notice of hearings and to attend the hearings. It basically requires a loosening of confidentially and allows the people caring for the children to address the judge at every hearing. In her opinion, that should result in better judicial rulings about what children need. Additionally, the time line for appeals after the termination of parental rights are being tightened up. "She stated, as Russ Webb mentioned earlier, if you were to file a termination petition right now in Anchorage, you'd get a trial date in about January or February of 1999. Sometimes when we finish the time, we wait nine months to a year for a ruling and then we wait up to a year for an appeal decision." The time lines and fast tracking to safe, permanent homes is required under federal law. She referred to page 29, line 11, and said that every case where a child is in out-of-home care has to have a permanency hearing 12 months after the child is removed. At the permanency hearing, a judge will consider what the parents have done in the last year and make a decision as to whether the state should continue trying to reunite the child with the parents or if the state should look for a permanent, safe home for the child. This will solve the problem arising from the situation where a parent enters treatment on the eve of the hearing, throwing off the plan to terminate parental rights. She stated there are cases where this pattern has been established and the cases have been open anywhere from five to ten years. These are changes that have been made in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed into law November 1997. Number 0436 MS. WIBKER commented that HB 375 is proposing a couple of other changes that would drastically change the way social workers practice currently. One is the requirement that the department make reasonable efforts to reunite every child with their family. Changes in federal law have recognized that some cases are so aggravated and the level of violence is so high in some families that the department no longer has to make plans to reunite every child in the home. She explained those are cases where there's been a homicide of a child, a felony assault on a child, sexual abuse, torture, some type of chronic abuse, et cetera. The change will result in the state focusing its resources on immediately finding a permanent placement for the child. She said, "So it saves resources in the cases where the level of family violence has escalated so high that the resources are too little, too late to make a difference. It allows the state to put its treatment resources into the families where we can get in early and work to rehabilitate those families." Number 0497 MS. WIBKER said another change is in the filing of termination of parental rights petitions. Currently, the filing of a termination of parental rights petition is totally at the discretion of the department and its attorneys. As she mentioned previously, there are situations where the parents can use drugs for years and by entering treatment on the eve of a hearing, they keep the department from ever getting the child into a safe, permanent home. Under existing law, the department has to prove by clear and convincing evidence to a court that parental conduct which brought the child into state custody was likely to continue. Under the proposed changes, petitions to terminate parental rights would be mandatory in some cases. So if a parent uses drugs for two or three years and goes into treatment a month before the termination trial, a judge can rule that it's not in the best interest of the child to take another chance and wait. Number 0559 CHAIRMAN BUNDE announced the committee would now hear testimony via teleconference. He asked Walter Gauthier to present his comments. Number 0563 WALTER GAUTHIER testified via teleconference from Homer. He requested a copy of the audits and internal reviews conducted by the division. He said that page 23 indicates that exposure to domestic violence is prima facie evidence of emotional harm to the child. He expressed concern that with the prima facie evidence language, children will go into state custody as a child in need of aid case automatically. He said there will be situations where a woman calls police after being beaten, police take the husband away, and the social workers take the children away. This woman will have to go to court and prove "something to someone" in order to get her children back for the crime of allowing them to witness domestic violence. In his opinion, HB 375 was 49 pages of destruction of parental rights. He said, "For the legislature to blame parental rights for the problems within the child protection system is no different from blaming a legal gun owner for crimes committed by people with guns." CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Gauthier for his testimony and asked Eugene Altig to testify. Number 0684 EUGENE ALTIG testified from Fairbanks via teleconference regarding the harm done to children when the family is broken up. He believed that leaders of social service workers should be elected so they could be held accountable by the public. He noted that Ms. Wibker's comments sounded rational, but because of the ambiguity, many different things could be read into the legislation. He said it's all a matter of interpretation and the language needs to be kept simple and more direct. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Altig for his testimony and called on Suzette Graham to present her comments. Number 0762 SUZETTE GRAHAM testified from Kenai via teleconference. As a foster parent, she said there were certain provisions of HB 375 that she supported such as quicker termination of parental rights if a parent refuses to make a reasonable effort. She believed that "reasonable effort" should be defined, so if there's a six month case plan for example, the parent can't attempt to do something after five months and have it be considered a reasonable effort. She's had two children in foster care for two and one-half years and it's still at the reasonable effort stage. She suggested that a good way to save money would be for the state to quit paying for repeated treatment for those parents going into rehab three and four times. She would like to see "the best interest of the child" added to this legislation because everything that goes before a court should be in the best interest of the child, whether it be to reunite the child with parents, placement in another family or left in a foster home. She said the willing to parent provision should be eliminated because it doesn't address the psychological, emotional or financial ability to parent. Personally, she thought the family court concept, similar to what Sitka has in place, should be explored. In conclusion, she said there were provisions of the proposed legislation she liked and others she didn't, but she encouraged the legislature to take action this session because there were many children needing help. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Blair McCune to present his comments. Number 0898 BLAIR MCCUNE, Deputy Director, Public Defender Agency, Department of Administration, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. He confirmed the committee had received his written statement that had been faxed earlier and said he would be reiterating much of the testimony he had given on SB 218. He referred to AS 47.10.011 and said, "This is where the age old problem of the power of the government to intervene in a family's life to protect children versus the family's right to raise their kids on their own. This is the part of the statute that decides that basic policy question. And what I'm concerned about is the - there are situations covered by this bill -- and it's interesting, it says, 'the court may find a child to be a child in need of aid' -- I don't know if that has (indisc.) -- it seems to me like under the current legislation, the child is or is not a child in need of aid based on the sections of the statute. But I'd like to have the court look at abandonment pretty carefully because under current law abandonment is abandonment by both parents, the surviving parent or one parent if the other parent's rights have been terminated. What this would do actually is as a single parent, if a father abandons a mother who has custody of the child, the state theoretically may take custody of this child and there's thousands and thousands of cases -- not to say that the department would step in in those situations, but I think we ought to have a law that limits when the department might step in and when they might not. And I think that same problem exists in several other sections. Like the substance abuse section, if one parent has a problem with substance abuse and the other parent doesn't, theoretically the state could come in and take custody of the child just based on one parent's problem. I think what this does is, it doesn't recognize that families in Alaska have a lot of resiliency where one parent stumbles, the other parent picks up, where both parents stumble, often a grandmother or grandfather or stepdad take care of the situation. I think that perhaps the statute ought to be relooked at." CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. McCune for his testimony and asked Michael Coons to testify at this time. Number 1049 MICHAEL COONS, Paramedic, testified from Mat-Su that he was worked in emergency services since 1981. He said the bottom line in reading the proposed legislation is, he hasn't seen any real change pertaining to the Division of Family and Youth Services -- meaningful punishment for those who neglect, abuse or exploit children nor increased law enforcement role over that of the division. Since moving to Alaska, he's not had any contact with the DFYS; however, he has concluded that social service agencies from state to state are very similar. He said what's needed is the ability for law enforcement to make the decision on site to start an investigation at least, or to remove the child. He shared experiences he had encountered as a paramedic where child neglect and possible sexual abuse were involved and the negative interactions with case workers when reporting these incidents. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Coons for his testimony and asked Diana Buffington of Kodiak to present her comments. Number 1152 DIANA BUFFINGTON, President and State Coordinator, Children's Rights Council of Alaska (CRCA) and Chairman, Alaska Task Force on Family Law Reform, testified from Kodiak, stating that CRCA and the task force advocate the equity and equality of both parents in furtherance of a genuine focus on the needs and rights of children and in recognition of the fundamental truth, issues that adversely affect the parents' ability to raise a child and nurture their children adversely affect children. The CRCA and the task force promote the right of children to receive the same access to both parents (indisc.) and sanction in the traditional family with married parents. Society needs to recognize that a family intervention, transition through separation or (indisc.) without marriage is still family and that family values often cannot survive when broken families disintegrate from the loss of a parent and the perpetuation of parental irresponsibility through neglect and abuse. She said there are serious breakdowns in the justice system that have already affected many Alaskan families' intervention in their children for decades. In 1990 and 1991, the Alaska Senate task force held statewide public hearings to determine areas of concern at DFYS, CSED, the custody investigator's office and the guardian ad litem program in the court. Seven years later, none of the recommendations of that task force have been implemented in any of the family law referral agencies. In fact, the agencies have continued to adopt administrative regulations that are loosely based on federal legislation. She concluded that the Children's Rights Council of Alaska and the Alaska Task Force on Family Law Reform cannot support HB 375 in its present form. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Buffington for her testimony and asked Harry Niehaus to testify. Number 1409 HARRY NIEHAUS testified from Fairbanks via teleconference in opposition to HB 375. He said HB 375 gives broad statutory authority to social workers and that families are being intimidated by social workers. Also, he believes the language in HB 375 is much too vague. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Cindy Houser to give her testimony. Number 1461 CINDY HOUSER, Foster parent, testified via teleconference from Kenai, in opposition to HB 375 because it works against foster families and it doesn't help the children. While she agrees there are some good things in HB 375, she is of the opinion, it creates more loopholes and there's more wrong than good. She agreed that in some cases parental rights should be terminated faster, but social workers and judges need to be held more accountable for sending children back to questionable situations in the home. She said, "Us, as foster parents ought to have the same immunity as the division because we're with these kids -- we shouldn't be held responsible for their actions to our neighbors and people of the community -- the state has custody of these kids, not us foster parents, so we ought to have some protection, too." While much is said about bad foster parents, she believed that most foster parents are good. She suggested there should be mandatory drug testing for all state workers working with children, as well as foster parents. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Johnny Grames to present his testimony. Number 1585 JOHNNY GRAMES, Representative, DADS-Alaska, testified from Anchorage that he had been waiting all afternoon to testify. He said fathers pay to raise their children and other people are getting paid to come to teleconferences and to look after the best interest of the child and to protect the children. The concern of DADS-Alaska is who protects the children from the government and the Administration. He noted the Bill of Rights was written to protect the citizens from abuses of government power. He concluded that legislation like HB 375 creates more problems than it solves and fathers in DADS-Alaska want to help raise their children. CHAIRMAN BUNDE asked Marci Schmidt to present comments at this time. Number 1820 MARCI SCHMIDT, Representative, Parents United for Custodial Justice, testified from Mat-Su, representing Parents United for Custodial Justice and the national organization that helped to advocate for the passage of Public Law 105-89. She said HB 375 is very ineffective and would do more damage to children and to children's rights. She suggested the committee shelve HB 375. She stated there needs to be more accountability in all departments of government. She urged the committee not to pass HB 375. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Schmidt for her testimony and asked Scott Calder to present his testimony. Number 1891 SCOTT CALDER testified via teleconference from Fairbanks and requested copies of reports, audits and documents referred to during this meeting. He concurred with the comments of Mr. Gauthier and several other individuals who had testified that HB 375 gives too much power to government. He said clearly, the priority must be to protect people from this agency and not to protect the agency from claims of liability, et cetera. There needs to be more accountability from the system. He stated the issue of whether a child refuses to go home being equated with abandonment is reprehensible. He said, "The department is already having problems responding to parents who contact the department. Earlier it was said that a parent could make a report of harm to the department but then immediately the implication was floated right by that that would necessarily mean the parent was requesting the state to take custody. Often times the parent needs some other person in the community to support them when they're having difficulty with a discipline problem or something with a children." Number 2143 CHAIRMAN BUNDE noted that additional public hearings would be held on HB 375. He felt it was appropriate to have a discussion of the proposed legislation so individuals wishing to testify could do so intelligently. He called on Bradley Laybourn to testify next. Number 2172 BRADLEY LAYBOURN testified from Anchorage that until recently, he'd had no contact with social service agencies and he is appalled at the amount of power the agencies have and the lack of accountability. His permanent fund and income tax refunds have been garnisheed and his child has been living with him for over a year. Several times he's attempted to contact the agency, only to be put on hold for up to four hours. He testified in opposition to giving agencies additional powers. CHAIRMAN BUNDE pointed out that HB 375 is about child abuse, not child support. TAPE 98-21, SIDE A Number 0001 CAROL PALMER, Representative, Parents United for Custodial Justice, testified via teleconference from Mat-Su, said, "... about child support, is in here under Section 11, starting on page 9, and what I'm concerned about is the criminal nonsupport in the first degree, that's also in here on the bottom on 9, and on page 10, it's criminal nonsupport in the second degree." She didn't think this needed to be included in HB 375. She referred to the statement at the top of page 10,"the person knowingly conveys assets, property, or any thing of value to another person in order to avoid payment of child support ...." and said there's a lot of misunderstanding. She discussed the problems a noncustodial parent on low income has making a living, so that person may need to take steps to protect their own interest to survive by signing over a car or property to another person. Also, she expressed concerns about the vagueness of the language regarding abandonment of a child. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Palmer and asked Dr. Bergeson to present his comments. Number 0189 MARVIN BERGESON, M.D., Tanana Valley Clinic, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks in support of HB 375. He's concerned with children who have been abandoned by their parents, especially where there's substance and alcohol abuse involved, and the children are being mandated by the courts to be reunited with parents who have repeatedly failed in rehab. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Dr. Bergeson for his testimony and asked Gary Maxwell to present his testimony. Number 0262 GARY MAXWELL testified via teleconference from Anchorage, and questioned why allegations of child abuse were not investigated by police rather than by social workers. Social workers should become involved after police have determined that abuse exists and could make placements as soon as possible. With regard to the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome and crack addicted babies, he suggested mandatory drug testing for all welfare recipients. He's seen too many cases of drug and alcohol abuse in welfare homes. Just recently, he tried to help a grandmother from Oregon get her grandchildren because the mother had been high on cocaine for three or four days, but the judge threw it out of court because the grandmother had no standing. He urged the committee not to grant the Child Support Enforcement Division any additional powers with the proposed criminal nonsupport provision. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Mr. Maxwell for his testimony and asked Suzanne Goodrich to testify. Number 0414 SUZANNE GOODRICH testified via teleconference from Anchorage. She is an adoptive parent with two children and she was testifying on behalf of Catholic Social Services. She said, "I hope to leave you with some good news. After talking about child protection and all of the issues covered today, there's a very exciting adoption initiative that has just really taken off. It's a collaborative effort between Catholic Social Services, Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption, and Catholic Community Services in Juneau, and working with the Indian Child Welfare Act children, the Bristol Bay Native Health Corporation in a consortium with ten tribal organizations." She said the group is finding new ways to work creatively together to create a new system for adoption in the state, a draft agreement has been established for a toll free telephone line. A letter to the editor asking for interested parents has resulted in 37 families making inquiry. She said the group has a draft recruitment campaign ready to go pending approval for adoptive and foster parents in addition to working on a training program for adoptive parents. CHAIRMAN BUNDE thanked Ms. Goodrich for her testimony and asked Martha Hodson for her comments. Number 0596 MARTHA HODSON testified via teleconference from the Kenai Legislative Information Office, stating that parts of House Bill 375 are okay, but there's a lot wrong with it as well. She said there is not always reasonable effort in every case. It's a crime to neglect or abuse a child, and the police officers need to be involved in investigating these crimes and stop expecting social workers to be police officers. It is important to remember that not every case is abuse; parents need to be able to discipline. Number 0699 CHAIRMAN BUNDE concluded public testimony and announced that HB 375 would be heard in committee again at a later date. ADJOURNMENT Number 0707 CHAIRMAN BUNDE adjourned the House Health, Education and Social Services Standing Committee at 5:17 p.m.