Legislature(1995 - 1996)

02/09/1995 03:03 PM HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
 HHESS - 02/09/95                                                              
 Number 102                                                                    
                                                                               
 HB 92 - EXTEND FOSTER CARE REVIEW PANEL                                     
                                                                               
 MARVEEN COGGINS, Legislative Aide to Representative Toohey,                   
 discussed the sponsor statement:                                              
                                                                               
 House Bill 92 would extend the termination date of the                       
 Citizens' Review Panel for Permanency Planning to 1997.                       
 This would be in accordance with the recommendation of                        
 the Division of Legislative Audit which completed an                          
 audit in September of 1993.                                                   
                                                                               
 The enabling legislation had bi-partisan support and                         
 passed both the House and the Senate unanimously in 1990.                     
 It established an external citizen's review process in                        
 order to ensure that children do not languish in out-of-                      
 home placements, but receive the benefits of a permanent                      
 home.  The goal of the act was to reunite children with                       
 their families, but in those cases where reunification                        
 was not in the best interest of the child, the process                        
 would more expeditiously place the child in a secure,                         
 permanent home.                                                               
                                                                               
 It is estimated that about 500,000 children pass through                     
 state foster care in any given month throughout the U.S.                      
 During the 1970s, congress became aware that children                         
 were being removed from their families frequently,                            
 sometimes unnecessarily, to be placed in foster homes or                      
 institutions.  Once removed, children were seldom                             
 reunified with their biological family.  Children who                         
 could not return to their families lingered in temporary                      
 care, rather than being provided with permanent, adoptive                     
 families.  Thousands of children were caught for years in                     
 foster care drift, removed frequently from one foster                         
 family to another.  Crowded court calendars and                               
 understaffed child welfare agencies were contributing to                      
 an increase in the number of children and the length of                       
 time spent in substitute care.  Among solutions proposed                      
 by child advocacy organizations were the comprehensive                        
 implementation of permanency planning casework and foster                     
 care placement monitoring through regular case reviews.                       
                                                                               
 A resource was identified to help monitor the situation:                     
 citizen volunteers.  There are now citizen review panels                      
 in 25 states, including Alaska.  In Alaska, the                               
 Department of Administration (DOA) originally made a                          
 decision not to implement the panels.  It has only been                       
 since FY94 that DOA is implementing pilot panels in                           
 Anchorage, so there is not yet adequate information to                        
 analyze the panel's effectiveness.  External citizens'                        
 reviews have only been on-going as a model project since                      
 mid-December 1993.  Although functional for just a short                      
 period of time the panel has submitted two annual reports                     
 to the legislature.                                                           
                                                                               
 Earlier in 1993, the Division of Legislative Audit did an                    
 audit regarding the upcoming sunset date for the                              
 Citizens' Review Panel. The result of the audit was the                       
 recommendation to extend the sunset date to 1997.  This                       
 would allow the Anchorage project sufficient time to                          
 gather data to determine the panel's effectiveness.                           
 Effectiveness can be measured by the length of time                           
 children remain in foster care, and by the savings                            
 associated with children no longer being part of the                          
 foster care system.                                                           
                                                                               
 According to the reports, public acceptance of the                           
 external review process has been excellent.  The office                       
 has received numerous calls from parents requesting their                     
 child be reviewed by the citizens' review panels.  Foster                     
 parents have stated they appreciate being a part of the                       
 external review process.  The office has been able to                         
 provide assistance to Native village councils regarding                       
 some procedures.                                                              
                                                                               
 This bill has the support of the Alaska Chapter of the                       
 National Association of Social Workers and the National                       
 Association of Foster Care Reviewers.  It has been shown                      
 that not only can children spend less time in out-of-home                     
 placements, but cost-savings can result.                                      
                                                                               
 Number 300                                                                    
                                                                               
 MS. COGGINS then introduced members of the audience who were in               
 support of HB 92.  Present were Roberley Waldron, former Deputy               
 Commissioner, Department of Administration; and Patty Swenson,                
 Member, Citizens Foster Care Review Panel.  On teleconference in              
 Anchorage were Cecelia Kleinkauf, Cindy Devlin and Candice Wheeler            
 with the Citizens Foster Care Review Panel.                                   
                                                                               
 Number 345                                                                    
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON asked who from the DOA currently                
 manages the program.  She stated that originally, the intent was              
 there was to be an executive director of the program.                         
                                                                               
 MS. COGGINS said since Roberley Waldron is no longer with the DOA,            
 the person in charge is Sharon Barton, also of the DOA.                       
                                                                               
 Number 388                                                                    
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY stated for the record that Representative Tom Brice           
 joined the meeting at 3:08 p.m.  A quorum was now present.                    
                                                                               
 Number 426                                                                    
                                                                               
 CECELIA KLEINKAUF, Attorney, with a Master in Social Work (MSW),              
 testified from the Department of Administration in Anchorage.  As             
 both a social worker and an attorney, she has had the privilege of            
 working with the DOA, under contract, to help set up and establish            
 the Foster Care Review Panel in Anchorage.                                    
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF said the need for foster care review and external               
 foster care review emanates from a federal law passed in 1980,                
 which was the Federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.              
 That federal law requires that when children go into foster care,             
 a case plan is developed for them and the child and the plan are              
 periodically reviewed at six-month intervals.                                 
                                                                               
 Number 493                                                                    
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF said while the Division of Youth and Family Services            
 (DFYS) takes the child into custody and is given statutory power to           
 develop the initial case plan, the need for an external review of             
 child welfare case plans is well documented across the country.               
 This is both for an objective look at what is happening to a child            
 in foster care and also to address the need for an outside review             
 system in order to make sure that individual children don't get               
 lost in the overburdened system and linger too long in foster care.           
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF stated that the whole purpose of an external review             
 is to provide a citizen or an independent to review children who              
 are in foster care.  This is toward the goal of having them achieve           
 a permanent home in the most timely manner.  The permanent home may           
 be with their own family, in a long-term guardianship situation or            
 perhaps in an adoptive home.                                                  
                                                                               
 Number 567                                                                    
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF said the review panels consist completely of trained            
 volunteers, which is how the panels are constructed in all states.            
 The cases for review come to the Citizen Review Panel, via the                
 Superior Court, when the child first comes into state care and                
 temporary custody of the DFYS.                                                
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF explained out of that court referral, panels are                
 established to look at why the child is now under state care.  The            
 panels look carefully at preventive efforts and the reasonable                
 efforts made to keep the child out of foster care, and what                   
 reasonable efforts have been made to return the child to its home             
 or a permanent situation as quickly as possible.                              
 Number 635                                                                    
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF continued that toward that end, the Review Panel                
 meets with parents, a DFYS representative and perhaps with the                
 child, the foster parent, the guardian and all the interested                 
 parties related to the child, to try to look at the overall plan              
 and see what effort is being made toward establishing a permanent             
 situation for the child.                                                      
                                                                               
 The recommendations developed by the panel are available to all the           
 parties involved with that case.                                              
                                                                               
 MS. KLEINKAUF concluded by saying that former Deputy Commissioner             
 Roberley Waldron could speak on some more specific review instances           
 as well as the annual report prepared for the legislature.                    
                                                                               
 Number 736                                                                    
                                                                               
 CINDY DEVLIN, Administrative Assistant II, Citizens Foster Care               
 Review Panel, Office of the Commissioner, DOA, recounted that she             
 first joined the Review Panel program in October, 1993.  This was             
 when a lot of the program's groundwork had been laid by the                   
 Advisory Committee through working with Ms. Kleinkauf and Deputy              
 Commissioner Waldron.                                                         
                                                                               
 MS. DEVLIN said since then, she has been working in the development           
 and the continued improvement of the program.  Most recently, the             
 program has been working toward combining their efforts with the              
 DFYS to coordinate their Title IV-E reviews.  The DOA program has             
 a very good working relationship with the DFYS review staff.                  
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR BUNDE left the meeting to attend another meeting.                    
                                                                               
 Number 790                                                                    
                                                                               
 CANDICE WHEELER, Social Worker II, with a Master in Social Work,              
 Citizens Foster Care Review Panel, Office of the Commissioner, DOA            
 said that she had over 25 years of experience with children in out-           
 of-home placement.  Foster care and adoption are her areas of                 
 expertise. She has been working with the Citizens' Review Program             
 since it began 14 months earlier.  It has been an interesting and             
 sometimes heart-wrenching experience for her.  It saddens her to              
 think that this program may be lost.  Her staff is finding that 86            
 percent of children they review are still in out-of-home care 12 to           
 18 months later.                                                              
                                                                               
 MS. WHEELER said the panel is finding that in this program, victims           
 can be made visible.  Social misery can be put on the agenda of               
 those with power.  The question they ask everyday is, "Who is                 
 speaking for the children?"  DFYS has mandated to reunite children            
 and families and that is excellent as far as it goes.  However,               
 some children have been in and out of home care for 12 to 18                  
 months. Many children in the program are babies, or two years old,            
 or six years old.  These children need to have a step made to get             
 them into permanent placement.                                                
                                                                               
 MS. WHEELER continued that a male parent, being interviewed by the            
 panel, recently admitted he was a "dope fiend" and an alcoholic,              
 and this man is a "high-powered attorney paid by the State."   Who            
 is advocating for the children?   That is the job of the Citizens'            
 Review Panel.  And that is why she would like to see the program              
 continue.                                                                     
                                                                               
 Number 878                                                                    
                                                                               
 PAULINE HASUND, Citizen Volunteer, Citizens Foster Care Review                
 Panel, said that she had been a foster parent for nine years.  She            
 is no longer a foster parent, since that is a requirement for                 
 membership on the panel.  She wanted to be on the panel because she           
 wanted to help ease the load on the social workers.  She knew that            
 outside input and help in placing these children in permanent homes           
 would be welcomed.  The social workers have worked with the panel             
 members very well.                                                            
                                                                               
 MS. HASUND has given two days each month to the panel as a                    
 volunteer.  But she has also given many more days, each month, at             
 home crying while she reads case records.  She wishes she could               
 take these children home and provide for them herself, but that is            
 not possible.  She urged the HESS Committee members to extend the             
 funding for the Citizens' Review Panel because it helps everyone              
 concerned, the court system, social workers and, above all, the               
 children.                                                                     
                                                                               
 Number 979                                                                    
                                                                               
 VERNETA WALLACE, Citizen Volunteer, Citizens Foster Care Review               
 Panel, also had previously been a foster parent in the state of               
 Alaska for 21 years.  She has done a lot of volunteer work within             
 the community as well.  Having worked with the DFYS and seeing how            
 overloaded the social workers are her main concern is for the                 
 children.  From her perspective, the panel has been very helpful              
 and has been making strides.  There has also been a lot of growth             
 within the panel over the years.  She strongly urged the HESS                 
 Committee members to continue the funding for the program.                    
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY assured Ms. Wallace that funding is not an issue              
 for the HESS Committee today.  That issue will be addressed by the            
 Finance Committee, which is the next committee of referral.                   
                                                                               
 Number 1083                                                                   
                                                                               
 SHARON BARTON, Director, Administrative Services, Department of               
 Administration, explained that she has only dealt with the                    
 Citizens' Review Panel since December, when she was placed in her             
 current position upon the departure of Roberley Waldron.  The DOA             
 has been both pleased and frustrated with the administration of               
 this program over the last 14 months.  The DOA's position on the              
 bill is neutral.  If it is in the interest of the legislature to              
 continue the program, the DOA would be pleased to administer it.              
                                                                               
 Number 1120                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Ms. Barton if there is an executive             
 director position for the Citizens' Review Panel, or if Ms. Barton            
 is simply responsible for the program.                                        
                                                                               
 MS. BARTON replied that was one of the frustrating parts about                
 administering the program, especially during a transition period.             
 When the funding level was set, a few years ago, at $125,000, the             
 DOA tried to figure out how they could get the most reviews done              
 for that amount of money.  It was decided that amount did not allow           
 for an executive director position and Roberley Waldron took on               
 that position in addition to her position as Deputy Commissioner.             
 Ms. Waldron provided the program with direction as if she was an              
 executive director.                                                           
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if the original budget for the                  
 program was $500,000, what happened to all the money that was                 
 there, and why wasn't it used to create an executive director                 
 position.                                                                     
                                                                               
 Number 1210                                                                   
                                                                               
 ROBERLEY WALDRON, former Deputy Commissioner, Department of                   
 Administration, said that former Commissioner Mala of the                     
 Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) and former                    
 Commissioner Keller of the DOA met and came to an agreement.                  
 Commissioner Mala said that if there was a problem in the issue of            
 foster care and permanency placement which needed to be addressed,            
 he wanted the opportunity to try and work within the DHSS.                    
 Therefore, they agreed the Citizens' Review Panel Program would not           
 be implemented.                                                               
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON said at that time, there was an administrative                    
 assistant hired.  So money had also been spent for supplies and               
 some office space.  This amounted to about $47,000 in Ms. Waldron's           
 estimation.  That money lapsed back into the general fund because             
 the DOA found other work for the administrative assistant.  The               
 legislature reappropriated the unspent funds, and those funds were            
 vetoed by former Governor Hickel on the recommendation of the                 
 Commissioners of DHSS and DOA.  This recommendation was given,                
 again, on the reasoning that the DHSS would like to fix any                   
 perceived problem internally.                                                 
                                                                               
 Number 1286                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON continued that the DOA began to get calls from                    
 legislators which asked why the program was not being implemented.            
 The legislators reminded the DOA and the DHSS that the program was            
 legislation and threatened to sue the departments.  One person with           
 a great interest in the implementation of the program was former              
 Representative and Senator Virginia Collins.  Another interested              
 person was former Representative Fran Ulmer, now Lt. Governor of              
 the state of Alaska.                                                          
                                                                               
 MS. Waldron said two years passed with no funding.  The following             
 year the program received $125,000, and this year the program has             
 $104,500.  The executive director could not be hired with that                
 amount of money, so when the DOA began to implement the program,              
 Ms. Waldron's idea was to use the members of the administration who           
 should have been in the statewide panel as an advisory panel.  She            
 decided she would act as the executive director since she would               
 have the agency in her office so the most reviews could be                    
 accomplished for the amount of money allotted.  That is what                  
 happened.                                                                     
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON said that however, she was fortunate to have a very               
 capable social worker, Candice Wheeler.  Ms. Wheeler began to run             
 the program and the advisory board was there to have staff                    
 meetings, conduct reviews and deal with problems.  Ms. Wheeler has            
 been a major driving force in getting the foster care review panels           
 working.                                                                      
                                                                               
 Number 1371                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stated that she was simply curious about              
 the funding, and saddened by the fact that former Senator Collins             
 worked hard at getting the program through and receiving funding,             
 and the program and funding were subsequently lost.  Representative           
 Robinson said it will be very difficult to get the needed funding             
 back to effectively serve the children.                                       
                                                                               
 Number 1404                                                                   
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked if there was anything left of the $125,000              
 provided for the last fiscal year.                                            
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON said "no."  The program was implemented that year.                
 Currently, they have $104,500, which means they will have to stop             
 doing reviews immediately unless other funding is provided.                   
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Ms. Waldron if it could be requested that the           
 program be continued without funding.                                         
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON stated that would be impossible.  Even though there are           
 about 19 wonderful citizen volunteers who give up to two days each            
 month to the program, the volunteers do not have the legal access             
 into the files where DOA workers go and extract the information               
 they use.  The program does require staffing.  It also requires a             
 trained expert to lead the citizen panel and to write the                     
 recommendations.                                                              
                                                                               
 Number 1473                                                                   
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY asked Ms. Waldron about the minimum amount of                 
 funding on which the Panel could function.                                    
 MS. WALDRON answered that if the program was continued as is, with            
 two social workers working as review panelists, it would take about           
 $170,000.  It would be better if one more social worker could be              
 added.  They could do many more reviews with one more social                  
 worker.  Ms. Waldron encouraged the HESS Committee members to pass            
 HB 92 and not to substitute the Citizens' Review Panel with some              
 other plan.  The current plan is the one which needs to go forward.           
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY assured Ms. Waldron that her intention was to                 
 continue with the current program.                                            
                                                                               
 Number 1528                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE TOM BRICE asked Ms. Waldron what kinds of costs will           
 be incurred if children in foster care are bounced from home to               
 home in the absence of some organization that develops permanency             
 plans.  It is the understanding of Representative Brice that the              
 most expensive part of foster care is within the first month when             
 setup costs, moving costs and administrative costs are incurred.              
 Those costs tend to drop considering the length of time the child             
 stays in a home.                                                              
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON replied that foster parents are paid a monthly amount             
 for the care of foster children.  The costs really do not diminish            
 over time.                                                                    
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE thought that when a child is moved, there is             
 some up front money to help defray costs.  Ms. Waldron answered               
 that she did not have the knowledge to respond to that question               
 effectively because that money comes from the DFYS and not the DOA.           
                                                                               
 Number 1560                                                                   
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON continued that children are moved regularly for                   
 different reasons.  They recently reviewed a two-year-old who has             
 been in 14 different foster homes.  Representative Brice said that            
 was ridiculous.  He believed there are financial savings depending            
 on how long a child is kept in one place.                                     
                                                                               
 MS. WALDRON said the real financial savings are seen when the child           
 is placed permanently, and Representative Brice strongly agreed.              
 He said that the Citizens' Review Panel helps to establish those              
 permanent homes.  In addition, the costs of moving children from              
 place to place does not take into account the toll this takes on              
 the children.  This cost is of greater importance than can be                 
 counted in dollars.                                                           
                                                                               
 Number 1630                                                                   
                                                                               
 SHERRIE GOLL, Lobbyist, Alaska Women's Lobby, represented KIDPAC,             
 a children's advocacy organization.  She testified in support of HB
 92.  She said that permanency planning is very important for the              
 HESS Committee members to understand.  The social workers at DFYS             
 do a very good job.  The division is very under funded and the case           
 loads are very high.  The children who are in state custody and the           
 Alaskan children in need of aid can use every bit of help they can            
 get.                                                                          
                                                                               
 MS. GOLL said the Foster Care Review Panel is a wonderful program             
 and it would have been great if it had received adequate funding.             
 Ms. Goll remembers when former Senator Collins, who was, at that              
 time, a representative, developed the program.  The program was               
 going to cost $500,000, which was very minimal because the program            
 was supposed to be statewide.                                                 
                                                                               
 MS. GOLL continued that currently, there is one pilot project in              
 Anchorage, where the heaviest case load is.  It is very important             
 that the program be continued.  She referred HESS Committee members           
 back to last year's annual report to show how much citizens can               
 accomplish by placing a little bit more light on the cases of kids            
 who are in foster care.  This can result in the permanent placement           
 of a child.  When case loads are high, such alternatives can often            
 slip by.                                                                      
                                                                               
 Number 1705                                                                   
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY called a brief at-ease at 3:32 p.m. until another             
 HESS Committee member arrived to make a quorum.                               
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY called the meeting back to order at 3:35 p.m.  She            
 announced that Representative Gary Davis had joined the meeting and           
 a quorum was again present.                                                   
                                                                               
 Number 1714                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Ms. Barton about the current budget.            
 MS. BARTON said that the $104,500 allotted for this year's budget             
 allows them to continue the program and keep the staff until March            
 15.  At that time, the staff will be laid off.  Ms. Barton said               
 that supplemental funding will be necessary to carry the program              
 through the rest of the fiscal year.                                          
                                                                               
 MS. BARTON stated that the $170,000, asked for next year, allows              
 for a three person staff.  The DOA has also disbanded the deputy              
 commissioner's office, in Anchorage, which had shared lease costs             
 with the program.  Therefore, the Review Panel would have to be               
 funded for its continuing lease costs.  The additional money in the           
 budget is one time money used for computers and furniture.                    
                                                                               
 MS. BARTON said currently, the furniture being used for the program           
 offices is on loan from Roberley Waldron.  The computers currently            
 being used are very out of date.                                              
                                                                               
 Number 1788                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if the extra money needed was in the            
 emergency supplemental.  Ms. Barton answered it was not in any                
 supplemental fund request, emergency or otherwise.                            
 Number 1811                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE moved that HB 92 be passed from the HESS                 
 Committee with individual recommendations, and the accompanying               
 fiscal notes.                                                                 
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked if it was appropriate for the HESS              
 Committee to also move a note or personally speak with whomever is            
 in charge of the supplemental budget to ask about the possibility             
 of supplemental funding for the program.                                      
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE BRICE said two different issues were being                     
 discussed, although they are related.  It would be appropriate for            
 the HESS Committee to write a letter if that was the will of the              
 committee.  Individual legislators can also write a letter                    
 requesting that additional funding be considered for the program.             
 Whether or not it is appropriate that the request is part of HB 92,           
 Representative Brice was not sure, but he didn't think so.                    
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY agreed that she didn't think it was appropriate.              
 She stated that the outcome was uncertain because of the financing.           
 Co-Chair Toohey suggested that the Finance Committee was certainly            
 aware that HB 92 and the funding needed was coming to them, and it            
 will be up to the Finance Committee members to make the decision.             
 The Citizens' Review Panel received a lot of support last session             
 and there is obviously a lot of support this session.                         
                                                                               
 Number 1892                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON suggested that Co-Chair Toohey write a                
 letter to make sure that this receives a high priority from the               
 Finance Committee.  Representative Robinson was doubtful that                 
 everyone in that committee is watching for the program and that               
 they really care that the program continues.  To Representative               
 Robinson, it would be a shame to lose the program and then have to            
 begin it again.  She thought the HESS Committee is the only                   
 committee before Finance and it is important that the HESS                    
 Committee members let the Finance Committee know of this program's            
 importance and the importance of funding.                                     
                                                                               
 Number 1917                                                                   
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS asked if the motion to pass HB 92 out of                 
 committee had passed without objection.  Hearing no objections, the           
 bill was passed out of the HESS Committee, to the Finance                     
 Committee. with individual recommendations and the accompanying               
 fiscal notes by Co-Chair Toohey.                                              
                                                                               
 REPRESENTATIVE DAVIS left the committee meeting at 3:40 p.m.                  
                                                                               
 Number 1935                                                                   
                                                                               
 CO-CHAIR TOOHEY called the meeting back to order at 3:45 p.m.  A              
 quorum was not present to conduct business, therefore, only                   
 testimony would be taken.                                                     

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