Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205

03/22/2017 01:30 PM HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES

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01:32:28 PM Start
01:32:54 PM Departmental Overview: Office of Children's Services
02:51:46 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Presentation: Departmental Overview, Office of TELECONFERENCED
Children's Services
-- Testimony <Invitation Only> --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
      SENATE HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES STANDING COMMITTEE                                                                    
                         March 22, 2017                                                                                         
                           1:32 p.m.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Senator Natasha von Imhof, Vice Chair                                                                                           
Senator Cathy Giessel                                                                                                           
Senator Peter Micciche                                                                                                          
Senator Tom Begich                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Senator David Wilson, Chair                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
DEPARTMENTAL OVERVIEW: OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     - HEARD AND HELD                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
No previous action to record                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
WITNESS REGISTER                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CHRISTY LAWTON, Director                                                                                                        
Office of Children's Services                                                                                                   
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services                                                                                 
Juneau, Alaska                                                                                                                  
POSITION STATEMENT: Provided a departmental overview of the                                                                   
Office of Children's Services.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
ACTION NARRATIVE                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:32:28 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR NATASHA VON IMHOF called the Senate Health and Social                                                              
Services Standing Committee meeting to order at 1:32 p.m.                                                                       
Present at the call to order were Senators Giessel and Vice-                                                                    
Chair von Imhof.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
^DEPARTMENTAL OVERVIEW: OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES                                                                           
      DEPARTMENTAL OVERVIEW: OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES                                                                  
                                                                                                                              
1:32:54 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR VON  IMHOF announced  that the  committee will  hear a                                                               
departmental overview  by Ms.  Christy Lawton,  Division Director                                                               
for the Alaska  Department of Health and  Social Services (DHSS),                                                               
Office of Children's Services.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
1:33:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHRISTY LAWTON, Division Director,  Office of Children's Services                                                               
(OCS), Alaska  Department of Health and  Social Services, Juneau,                                                               
Alaska, summarized her presentation agenda as follows:                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
   · Overview of key data.                                                                                                      
   · Address OCS work-force challenges.                                                                                         
   · Highlight new initiatives.                                                                                                 
   · Address upcoming child and family services review.                                                                         
   · Address the Citizen Review Panel (CRP) report.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
She  addressed child  maltreatment data  from 2007  to 2016.  She                                                               
noted  that  a  54  percent  increase  occurred  for  out-of-home                                                               
children from  2011 to 2016,  [2011: 2,730 vs. 2016:  4,132]. She                                                               
revealed that  four out of Alaska's  five-geographic regions have                                                               
seen significant growth, the only part  of the state that has not                                                               
seen  the  growth is  the  western  region.  She added  that  the                                                               
state's  overall  population has  experienced  a  less than  one-                                                               
percent growth from 2011 to 2016.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GIESSEL asked Ms. Lawton  to verify that Alaska's western                                                               
region did not see significant growth.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON answered yes.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
1:35:16 PM                                                                                                                    
She  addressed children's  foster care  and maltreatment  data in                                                               
Alaska as follows:                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
     Alaska is  one of  35 states across  the country  or 71                                                                    
     percent of states who have  reported an increase in the                                                                    
     number  of children  in  foster care  over  the last  3                                                                    
     years.  Nationally,   family  stress  related   to  the                                                                    
      recession and to the opioid epidemic around parental-                                                                     
      substance abuse are the top two reasons that states                                                                       
       are articulating for that growth, so Alaska is not                                                                       
     alone.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
     Alaska  has one  of  the highest  per  capita rates  of                                                                    
     child maltreatment  in the country.  Alaska's children,                                                                    
     sadly, are  56 percent  more likely  to be  abused than                                                                    
     the national  average. Alaska's rate of  child abuse is                                                                    
     14.5 while  the national  rate is  9.2 per  every 1,000                                                                    
     children.   In  2016,   1-in-10  Alaska   children  was                                                                    
     reported to OCS.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     Alaska also  has historically one of  the highest rates                                                                    
     of repeat  maltreatment. Repeat maltreatment  is really                                                                    
     measured when  we receive a report  of maltreatment, we                                                                    
     go  out   and  assess  and  investigate   that.  If  we                                                                    
     substantiate, meaning  we indicate  that the  abuse did                                                                    
     occur and  then we  have a  subsequent report  where we                                                                    
     also substantiate  within 12 months,  that's considered                                                                    
     repeat maltreatment  and that is  not a good  thing for                                                                    
     children; so  unfortunately, that  is a very  high rate                                                                    
     in  Alaska.  We  have   been  making  some  significant                                                                    
     efforts which  is also part  of our increase  in growth                                                                    
     because we  made some policy  changes to say,  "We need                                                                    
     to  get out  to  see  more families  so  we don't  keep                                                                    
     seeing them come back again and again.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:37:03 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. LAWTON  referenced a  graph that showed  key data  points for                                                               
the past five years as follows:                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
 1. Total protective services reports: 17,418 reports in 2016;                                                                  
   2. Removals: 1,356 in 2016;                                                                                                  
  3. Unduplicated children in out-of-home care: 3,905 in 2016;                                                                  
   4. Discharge: 1,038 in 2016.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
She detailed that the graph  shows the total number of protective                                                               
services reports which  are the reports that the  public makes to                                                               
OCS, 70  percent come  from reports  who are  mandated by  law to                                                               
report  to  OCS:  law enforcement,  education,  and  the  medical                                                               
community.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
She  revealed  that  neglect  is   far  and  above  the  type  of                                                               
maltreatment  that  OCS  sees,  followed  by  mental  injury  and                                                               
physical abuse. She said of  the 17,000 reports received in 2016,                                                               
9,500 reports were for an  initial assessment that resulted in an                                                               
investigation.  She disclosed  that the  7,900 remaining  reports                                                               
that were  not screened for  an investigation were  recorded into                                                               
OCS's database and no family contact was made.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
1:37:12 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH joined the committee meeting.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON provided an overview of OCS's workforce as follows:                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
   · Primarily young and inexperienced, a lot right out of                                                                      
     school;                                                                                                                    
   · Primarily women;                                                                                                           
   · Lacking diversity, very few Alaskan native staff when 55                                                                   
     percent of the children are Alaskan native;                                                                                
   · May or may not have social work education;                                                                                 
   · Average length of training: two weeks;                                                                                     
   · Starts   in   investigations,   tend    to   be   the   most                                                               
     inexperienced;                                                                                                             
   · Average length of stay: 18 months, studies show that                                                                       
     caseworkers need 2 years to learn their job.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
She  summarized  that  OCS's staff  turnover  ultimately  impacts                                                               
outcomes for  children and families  by not providing  the proper                                                               
support.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
1:41:59 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR  VON IMHOF  asked if  training for  two weeks  is long                                                               
enough.  She inquired  what the  caseload was  for an  individual                                                               
that starts in investigations.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON  explained  that normal  classroom  training  is  two                                                               
weeks,  some workers  get three  if they  are in  a rural  office                                                               
where an individual  has to be more of a  "generalist." She noted                                                               
that OCS has "onboarding" plans  when employees come onboard that                                                               
outlines  what a  person  needs  to understand  in  terms of  the                                                               
agency,  communities, services,  and meeting  work partners.  She                                                               
detailed that  investigators typically  do not receive  more than                                                               
12  cases per  month. She  admitted that  investigators typically                                                               
get more than 12 cases per  month, which results in OCS not being                                                               
able to initiate and access child safety on a timely basis.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:44:17 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF  asked what kind of support  is provided for                                                               
a  new, young  person.  She asked  if support  is  provided on  a                                                               
regular  basis to  help a  young  person emotionally  as well  as                                                               
looking at  strategy in  how to  help with  all of  the different                                                               
situations.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON replied that a  new worker receives support from their                                                               
supervisor  as well  as colleagues  in their  unit. She  revealed                                                               
that supervisors  average seven  to eight  workers per  unit. She                                                               
noted that  ideally a  supervisor should have  no more  than five                                                               
workers.   She  disclosed   that  new   workers  "shadow"   other                                                               
caseworkers as well.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  BEGICH addressed  workers'  average length  of stay  and                                                               
asked if exit interviews have  been conducted to identify reasons                                                               
for the high turnover rate.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON explained  that  exit surveys  are  offered, but  not                                                               
required.  She  stated  that  the main  reasons  most  often  for                                                               
exiting are: workload, inability to  do meaningful work with kids                                                               
and families, and not connecting with supervisors.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
1:47:38 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR  VON  IMHOF  asked   Ms.  Lawton  when  visiting  with                                                               
caseworkers what is she finding.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON  explained  caseworkers often  feel  overwhelmed  and                                                               
limited due to administrative tasks  and the inability to do home                                                               
visits for one-on-one encounters.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON  IMHOF asked  if Ms.  Lawton travels  to different                                                               
sites around Alaska to do some  home visits and see what is going                                                               
on.                                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON answered  that  she has  not in  the  last couple  of                                                               
years.   She  specified   that  she   visits  field   offices  to                                                               
communicate with staff.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH  stated that  Ms. Lawton  has underscored  what he                                                               
had  seen  regarding  the continued  frustration  with  retaining                                                               
staff,  workload, and  not being  able to  do what  a person  was                                                               
hired  to  do.  He  asked  Ms.  Lawton  if  she  had  a  list  of                                                               
recommendations to specifically address turnover and workload.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
1:50:43 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. LAWTON replied  that the state and Legislature has  to take a                                                               
comprehensive  look  at  tackling child  maltreatment  in  Alaska                                                               
regarding prevention and determining  the optimum workforce level                                                               
to get caseloads down.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH concurred that a  comprehensive review makes a lot                                                               
of sense.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
1:53:38 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. LAWTON provided turnover rates for caseworkers as follows:                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
   · FY2012: 37 percent,                                                                                                        
   · FY2013: 25 percent,                                                                                                        
   · FY2014: 35 percent,                                                                                                        
   · FY2015: 39 percent,                                                                                                        
   · FY2016: 38 percent.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS LAWTON reiterated the reasons for the caseworkers' turnover                                                                  
rates. She added that the pay for caseworkers is not in line                                                                    
with the type of work they are asked to do.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
1:55:27 PM                                                                                                                    
She addressed OCS's successes and opportunities as follows:                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
   · DHSS  5-year strategic  plan to  transform child  welfare in                                                               
     Alaska. Commissioner  Davidson initiated the plan.  Focus is                                                               
     placed   on   Alaska   natives   due   to   disproportionate                                                               
     representation and outcomes.                                                                                               
   · Reduced rate of repeat maltreatment.                                                                                       
   · Streamlined practices (National  Electronic Interstate Child                                                               
     Exchange/Centralized  Intake) to  help  get children  placed                                                               
     with out-of-state relatives.                                                                                               
   · Medicaid  reform, 1115  Waiver that  will benefit  families.                                                               
     Access  expansion   to  telehealth  services  will   have  a                                                               
     positive impact on rural areas.                                                                                            
   · Safe Baby  Courts starting  in Palmer in  July 2017  to help                                                               
     struggling first-time moms.                                                                                                
   · Federal  Child  and Family  Services  Review  (CFSR) in  May                                                               
     2017.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:02:41 PM                                                                                                                    
She explained that the federal government requires a                                                                            
comprehensive assessment of what OCS is doing well and wrong.                                                                   
She referenced the first phase of the CFSR as follows:                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
   · Provides  the state  an opportunity  to  gather and  analyze                                                               
     qualitative and  quantitative data and information  in order                                                               
     to assess  and evaluate  the current  child-welfare programs                                                               
     and practices.                                                                                                             
   · Provides  data   and  analysis   specific  to   the  safety,                                                               
     permanency  and wellbeing,  as  well  as the  seven-systemic                                                               
     factors, and  outlines OCS's child welfare  system strengths                                                               
     and weaknesses.                                                                                                            
   · Informs the  Children's Bureau of  key areas that  the state                                                               
     has identified as areas  needing improvement. The assessment                                                               
     also helps inform phase two of the review process, which is                                                                
     the on-site evaluation.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:04:20 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.  LAWTON explained  that  the CFSR  is  Alaska's third  review                                                               
since 2002. She detailed the onsite review process as follows:                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
   · Alaska is scheduled for the onsite review May 22-26.                                                                       
   · Three sites have been identified: Anchorage, Fairbanks and                                                                 
     Ketchikan.                                                                                                                 
   · A random sample of 25 in-home cases and 40 out-of-home                                                                     
     cases will be reviewed in Alaska.                                                                                          
   · During the onsite review, teams of state and federal                                                                       
     reviewers will examine case records and conduct case                                                                       
     related interviews to collect information on the outcomes                                                                  
     and systemic factors.                                                                                                      
   · A key component of the CFS is the statewide stakeholder                                                                    
     interviews.                                                                                                                
   · The combination of information from the Statewide                                                                          
     Assessment, the  onsite CFSR and the  stakeholder interviews                                                               
     will be  used to  determine if the  state is  in substantial                                                               
     conformity   with  the   federal  requirements,   or  if   a                                                               
     performance improvement plan is needed.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
She summarized that  a comprehensive report will  be presented in                                                               
August 2017.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
2:06:55 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR VON  IMHOF noted  that three  sites were  selected for                                                               
the CSFR. She asked how many sites OCS has in Alaska.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON answered that OCS has 24 sites.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF asked if the CFSR sites are rotated.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON  answered yes.  She noted  that Anchorage  will always                                                               
have to be  a site as the largest urban  area. She specified that                                                               
Bethel and Juneau were sites in  2008. She disclosed that many of                                                               
the  state's small  sites  do  not have  enough  sample sizes  to                                                               
qualify.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF pointed out  that the previous CSFR occurred                                                               
in 2008. She asked how often the CSRF occurs.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON answered  that the  CSFR is  supposed to  occur every                                                               
five years.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:08:21 PM                                                                                                                    
MS.   LAWTON  addressed   the   Citizen   Review  Panel's   (CRP)                                                               
recommendations for OCS as follows:                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
   1. Assign CRP a significant role in implementing priority                                                                    
     areas of the "Transforming  Child Welfare Outcome for Alaska                                                               
     Native Children: Strategic Plan 2016-2020."                                                                                
   2. Tribal-State Collaboration Group should consider a dialogue                                                               
     with  leaders of  Alaska native  for-profit corporations  to                                                               
     garner their support  and any resources they may  be able to                                                               
     leverage to enhance child protection services.                                                                             
   3. The CRP should be evaluated by an external entity to assess                                                               
     its effectiveness with attention  to: internal structure and                                                               
     the  CRP-OCS  statutory  relationship to  ensure  roles  and                                                               
     responsibilities are clear.                                                                                                
   4. OCS should consider building on CRP's survey effort by:                                                                   
     viewing training in more  detail, including special sections                                                               
     or topics of interest,  identifying other survey efforts OCS                                                               
     conducts  and  consider  leverage  resources  from  external                                                               
     entities.                                                                                                                  
   5. OCS should work with the CRP to strengthen the CRP's                                                                      
     ability  for public  participation,  rely on  it to  improve                                                               
    public awareness of the nature and content of OCS work.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:13:38 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH   suggested  that  maybe   it  was  time   for  a                                                               
Reimbursable Services Agreement (RSA)  between the university and                                                               
the  division.  He recommended  that  Dr.  Vadapalli, CRP  chair,                                                               
write the regulations.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF asked how long  Dr. Vadapalli has been a CRP                                                               
member.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BEGICH  answered that Dr.  Vadapalli has chaired  CRP for                                                               
four years  and served  on the  panel for  five years.  He opined                                                               
that the  university is  a function of  state government  and has                                                               
the power to RSA over to OCS.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GIESSEL opined that because  Dr. Vadapalli is faculty, he                                                               
is  required  to  spend  20  percent of  his  time  in  community                                                               
service.  She  noted that  Dr.  Vadapalli  is stepping  down  and                                                               
suggested  that he  may  be interested  in  community service  to                                                               
assist with writing regulations.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR  VON IMHOF  remarked  that Dr.  Vadapalli has  amassed                                                               
unique knowledge that probably should be captured.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
2:18:45 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  asked Ms. Lawton  if consideration has  ever been                                                               
given for  a retired social worker  to apply and volunteer  to be                                                               
on  the  CRP for  providing  expertise  that could  mitigate  the                                                               
tension  from the  "got you"  elements that  naturally emerge  in                                                               
panels like CRP.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON  replied that  she has  not considered  retired social                                                               
workers.  She stated  that  she would  be  supportive of  Senator                                                               
Begich's suggestion.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR   BEGICH  concurred   with   Ms.  Lawton   that  a   more                                                               
comprehensive review  would help in  finding out what  is needed.                                                               
He stated that he  would like to help in any  way. He opined that                                                               
there  must be  a way  to craft  the review  to help  OCS without                                                               
being just another mandate or burden put on the division.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON  replied that she  appreciated Senator  Begich's offer                                                               
to help.  She explained  that a  comprehensive approach  is being                                                               
addressed.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
2:22:03 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE joined the committee meeting.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF addressed OCS's  workforce statistics on new                                                               
employees and admitted that Ms.  Lawton's comments gave her pause                                                               
because the newly-hired caseworkers are  at the heart of OCS. She                                                               
noted that Ms.  Lawton mentioned annual staff  surveys. She asked                                                               
who  sees the  surveys and  if  committee members  could see  the                                                               
comments as well.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON explained that the  annual staff surveys are posted on                                                               
OCS's  website.  She noted  that  last  year's staff  survey  was                                                               
addressed by  CRP. She offered  that the  last five years  of the                                                               
staff surveys can be provided to committee members.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR   VON  IMHOF   disclosed  that   she  reviewed   OCS's                                                               
organizational  chart and  noted that  there are  five layers  of                                                               
management  between the  division  director down  to the  social-                                                               
service associates. She opined that  OCS's management layers seem                                                               
to be a  bit higher than other departments. She  asked why OCS is                                                               
set up the way it is and how does communication work.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON explained  that the  organizational chart  that Vice-                                                               
Chair von Imhof  is referencing looks at OCS  on the state-office                                                               
level  without  including all  of  the  five regions  with  field                                                               
staff.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
2:25:26 PM                                                                                                                    
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF noted that the  intent is to ask each agency                                                               
to  look  at ways  to  operate  efficiently  due to  the  state's                                                               
current fiscal  environment. She  remarked that  resources should                                                               
be  placed into  the people  who are  having direct  contact with                                                               
families.  She  said  she  wants  to  make  sure  that  the  mid-                                                               
management layers are either helping  or hindering OCS. She hoped                                                               
that Ms.  Lawton was  spending time looking  at how  the division                                                               
can be made better.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  MICCICHE asked  how the  correlation  works between  the                                                               
increase  since  2012  in  children in  foster  care  versus  the                                                               
reduction in removals between 2015 and 2016.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON replied  that the focus was on the  "front end" due to                                                               
an increase  in removals. She  shared that recent data  has shown                                                               
for  the  first  time  in  several years  that  kids  exiting  is                                                               
exceeding kids coming in.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:29:20 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE opined that the  parents OCS interacts with fall                                                               
into three categories: parents that  are not ready to be parents,                                                               
parents that are just simply  unprepared to be parents because of                                                               
the way  they were raised,  and folks  that are unfit  to perhaps                                                               
ever be parents.  He asked Ms. Lawton to  provide the proportions                                                               
of the parental  categories he identified. He  explained that the                                                               
reason  for asking  his question  centers on  OCS's priority  for                                                               
reunification  of  people  that  have the  potential  to  be  fit                                                               
parents.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON  replied that she does  not put parents into  the same                                                               
categories  as Senator  Micciche  does. She  explained that  some                                                               
people become  parents by  accident. She  admitted that  OCS does                                                               
not  have a  sense of  which parents  are accidental  all of  the                                                               
time.  She said  what OCS  sees are  parents that  are struggling                                                               
with  significant substance  abuse, mental  health, and  domestic                                                               
violence.  She added  that OCS  sees parents  that are  second or                                                               
third generation that have been served  by OCS where they are not                                                               
prepared  and have  not  been provided  with  good examples.  She                                                               
asserted that  OCS sees that  most parents truly love  their kids                                                               
and want to  do what is best  for them. She said there  is a tiny                                                               
percentage of parents,  two to three percent,  that really should                                                               
never have  been parents or have  their children back due  to the                                                               
severity of  what they have  done. She admitted that  all parents                                                               
have the  ability to  improve and  have their  situation remedied                                                               
such that they  can safely be a parent. She  opined that OCS does                                                               
not  expect "parents  of  the  year," but  the  threshold is  for                                                               
individuals to  be safe parents so  that a child can  grow up and                                                               
not have additional adverse-childhood experiences.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
2:32:00 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  stated that he hoped  reunification for parents                                                               
with potential to be successful  is absolutely always a priority.                                                               
He   addressed  OCS's   annual-staff-turnover   rates  as   being                                                               
significantly  higher than  the mean  average of  33 percent.  He                                                               
asked  if  there was  a  regional  difference in  staff  turnover                                                               
rates.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON  replied  that  there  are  variables;  for  example,                                                               
Ketchikan  has been  stable due  to a  stable supervisor  whereas                                                               
Wasilla is experiencing a higher  turnover rate due to having the                                                               
highest  caseload per  worker in  the state.  She disclosed  that                                                               
Alaskans out of Juneau, Anchorage  and Fairbanks typically do not                                                               
apply for positions in western  Alaska, and most workers going to                                                               
western  Alaska  are  from  out  of  state  where  they  have  no                                                               
intention of staying for a long time.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:35:25 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  addressed the two-week training  period for new                                                               
workers  and asked  how  well the  supervisors  are prepared  for                                                               
supporting new caseworkers.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  LAWTON admitted  that supervisors  are mostly  not prepared.                                                               
She  pointed out  that good  caseworkers get  promoted, but  good                                                               
caseworkers do  not always make  good supervisors.  She disclosed                                                               
that  supervisors  receive  training through  the  University  of                                                               
Alaska-Anchorage,  but  admitted  that  the training  is  not  as                                                               
extensive as  caseworker training. She disclosed  that a coaching                                                               
program has been  initiated for supervisors in the  last year and                                                               
a  half.  She  detailed  that the  coaching  program  is  showing                                                               
positive results  in providing guidance  to supervisors  to teach                                                               
workers to  think for  themselves. She  added that  training also                                                               
addresses secondary  trauma regarding the emotional  aspects that                                                               
happen  and  how  to  provide  support  for  staff  members.  She                                                               
admitted  that the  secondary-trauma component  is not  nearly as                                                               
robust and intensive as she would like it to be.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
2:38:50 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR GIESSEL  noted that part  of Senator  Micciche's district                                                               
used be  her district and her  regional office was also  above an                                                               
OCS  field  office. She  disclosed  that  she  had met  with  OCS                                                               
representatives while at her regional  office and shared that her                                                               
visit  was  gratifying  where she  emphasized  the  team  concept                                                               
versus the "us and you" scenario.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GIESSEL  addressed  OCS's  workforce-turnover  rate  and                                                               
compared the  situation to  her years  of experience  in critical                                                               
care where inexperienced nurses were  exposed to long hours, high                                                               
stress  and emotional  situations  where people  died. She  noted                                                               
that the typical  span-of-life for a critical-care  nurse was two                                                               
years. She  said OCS's frontline  folks are  critical-care staff.                                                               
She stated that  she does not deny that OCS  has areas that could                                                               
be improved,  but suggested that  perhaps there is  a distraction                                                               
with the wrong target.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
She offered  that rather than  saying OCS needs  improvement, she                                                               
suggested  that the  focus should  be  on how  families could  be                                                               
stronger; in  other words, prevention.  She admitted  that rather                                                               
than two-parent  families, fractured  families are  becoming more                                                               
common. She pointed out that  the fractured families are commonly                                                               
in crisis. She noted that she  would be interested in finding out                                                               
from OCS how many families  are single-parent families. She added                                                               
that families are also becoming  more separated from grandparents                                                               
where the grandmother teaches the new mother how to be a mother.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
She  set forth  that all  of the  scenarios that  she posed  have                                                               
escalated. She added that communities  have become more fractured                                                               
where other  families and communities  no longer step  in because                                                               
people  have  become more  transitory.  She  summarized that  she                                                               
sincerely  appreciates  what OCS  does  and  opined that  OCS  is                                                               
sometimes  criticized  when  actually  the  focus  should  be  on                                                               
ourselves and how much "we" as  a society can improve and support                                                               
families. She thanked Ms. Lawton for her work at OCS.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON IMHOF  noted that Ms. Lawton  mentioned Wasilla as                                                               
one  of OCS's  tougher  areas. She  asked if  Ms.  Lawton had  an                                                               
emergency plan for Wasilla.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
2:42:25 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. LAWTON replied  that in the past when an  office like Wasilla                                                               
would  get  in particular  crisis  the  caseloads throughout  the                                                               
state were looked at and  workloads were rebalanced by allocating                                                               
positions from  one region  to another.  She admitted  that there                                                               
was  no  good answer  in  dealing  with OCS's  current  situation                                                               
because  there was  no good  place to  pull from  without causing                                                               
negative consequences  on the communities  where people  would be                                                               
pulled from.  She admitted that  high caseloads  were everywhere.                                                               
She conceded that  her only available tool  is excessive overtime                                                               
which people are  already putting in which  further burns workers                                                               
out. She  noted that OCS has  been using a "travel  team" concept                                                               
over the past three years  where five to six non-permanent people                                                               
are typically  former OCS employees  that are deployed  in places                                                               
that have  the highest urgency.  She added that  former employees                                                               
are brought back  to work in non-permanent positions  to help for                                                               
a period of time as well.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON  IMHOF replied that  Ms. Lawton obviously  has put                                                               
some thought  into emergency situations  where several  tools are                                                               
at  her  disposal.  She  noted that  Ms.  Lawton  mentioned  that                                                               
successful caseworkers  are promoted when they  show promise. She                                                               
suggested that  Ms. Lawton might  consider a private  sector "all                                                               
hands on deck" tactic where  previously elevated workers take one                                                               
or two cases.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
2:46:00 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  asked how  effective the  external partnerships                                                               
have been and could the partnerships be expanded.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. LAWTON replied that OCS  has extensive relationships with the                                                               
tribal non-profits. She admitted  that the tribal non-profits get                                                               
very few dollars that are tied  to Indian child welfare cases and                                                               
their  capacity is  limited  like  OCS. She  stated  that OCS  is                                                               
always looking for opportunities  to partner where government can                                                               
play less of a  role in a community or a tribe  can play a larger                                                               
part.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
2:49:59 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MICCICHE  analogized that it  is a lot less  expensive to                                                               
maintain steering rather  than eventually having to  get a vessel                                                               
off of  the rocks. He suggested  that all of the  social ills are                                                               
connected  to   not  breaking  the  cycle   from  alcoholism  and                                                               
substance abuse, to suicide where the  state is number one in the                                                               
country. He  said a person  feels helpless  in not being  able to                                                               
assist  earlier in  the process  as opposed  to what  OCS has  to                                                               
intervene in when things get serious later on.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
VICE-CHAIR VON  IMHOF remarked  that Senator  Micciche's previous                                                               
comment is a  discussion that many have on an  ongoing basis. She                                                               
asserted  that a  thriving  economy is  important  were jobs  are                                                               
available.  She emphasized  that coordination  in needed  between                                                               
nonprofits  and all  sorts of  agencies to  create synergy  where                                                               
data and services are traded to  see if a system can be developed                                                               
that works together rather than in silos.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
2:51:46 PM                                                                                                                    
There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                   
Vice-Chair von Imhof adjourned the Senate Health and Social                                                                     
Services Committee at 2:51 p.m.                                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
OCS Senate HSS Presentation March 22 2017.pdf SHSS 3/22/2017 1:30:00 PM
OCS SHSS 3.22.17
OCS Response ACRP 2016 Annual Report.pdf SHSS 3/22/2017 1:30:00 PM
OCS SHSS 3.22.17