I am 71 and have lived in bush Alaska for over 50 years. I have been married 48 years, and have 5 children, 14 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.
I flew through the Alaska Range today for the sole reason of testifying before you.
During the 27th Legislature I served as vice Chair of the State House HSS Committee.
In 2011, I worked for one of my constituents regarding an OCS concern, and was immediately inundated by distressed families from across the State. The need was and continues to be desperate. I thank Rep. Tammie Wilson for her continued efforts to reveal OCS violations.
Children who are in danger certainly need protection. However OCS has a clear history of either not showing up when needed or of brutally destroying families. Some good has been done by OCS, but this is not a spelling test where 60% is a passing grade. OCS has been unaccountable and untouchable, with practices unconscionable. Please allow me to cite a few examples from my many related experiences.
• Responsible leaders such as a health professional east of Glennallen told me OCS workers and the local magistrate worked together to cherry-pick their cases, ignoring some egregious situations while targeting certain families. • A community leader in Pilot Station told me she had been calling OCS for over six months regarding a child in danger and could not get help.
• A responsible mature couple in Wasilla told me they tried taking in foster children. They said they enjoyed the children, but dealing with OCS was so insane they would never consider having foster children ever again.
• A grandfather from the northwest coast of Alaska tried to get custody of his three grandchildren that had been taken from his daughter. In desperation, he sold his house, and exhausted the $30K equity in a failed attempt to secure his grandchildren from OCS. When I had a meeting with Director Christy Lawton in Fairbanks regarding his situation, I was told “He was noncompliant.” My response was, “Since when is total compliance with you a prerequisite for good parenting skills?”
• OCS workers, the GALs (guardian ad litems) and court officials are paid state professionals who are quite accustomed to working together. For most families, OCS intrusion is bewilderingly unfamiliar with no means of resolution. The State Ombudsman’s office, who is supposed to defend citizenry against government intrusion, was defunded to the point of worthlessness over a decade ago. Once children are Taken by OCS, even Liam Neeson would have a hard time getting them back.
• When concerned family members or even Legislators try to find out what is going on they are kept at bay by 1” of plexiglass. An Anchorage mother tried to get her two children back for many, many years. OCS had given her children to a woman that literally starved them and kept them chained up. That documented case was made public in the Anchorage media, but two years later, that adoptive, abusive OCS mother still had legal custody of the children and the dedicated biological mother could not contact them! I went with that mother to the OCS office in Anchorage and waited one hour-forty-five minutes attempting to get ROI (release of information) paperwork so the mother could give me legal access to the information regarding her case. The OCS office refused to give us the paperwork which is supposed to be freely available. While waiting, two OCS workers separately called the mother aside and spoke quite rudely to her. I later told OCS Director Christy Lawton about the rebuff, and she admitted that we should have been given the ROI paperwork, but I was not able to get any farther on that case. I was neither the first nor the last Representative who failed in a efforts to break the OCS stronghold.
• Recently in McGrath, an OCS approved home was given a 13 year old girl. For an extended period of time that family allowed her 19 year old boyfriend to move in and stay in the same bedroom. The OCS office was a half of a mile away and most of the community was aware of the situation. The OCS worker did absolutely nothing until pressured by community members. She was later fired, I was told for long-term substance abuse.
• In 2012 Rep. Wes Keller, Chairman of HSS, conducted a public hearing with HSS Commissioner Streur in Wasilla. As vice Chair of HSS, I attended that meeting. Many aggrieved families testified. Commissioner Streur appeared to listen, and said “Game on.” But when I followed up with the families, I discovered that none of them had been contacted after that meeting and absolutely nothing had been resolved for the parents.
• It is the assignment of the GAL (guardian-ad-litem) under the Dept. of Admin. to focus exclusively on the safety of the child. It is, in theory, the function of OCS to restore families. I saw several situations where the GAL pleaded for the child to be returned to the family, yet OCS was adamantly opposed, as the whole focus has been to seize and adopt out the children.
• A grandmother from the mid-west with a Master’s degree is a professional social worker in her own state. I spent several hours with her in the Valley. She was articulate, intelligent and seemed completely responsible. Her Alaskan daughter had not been a good mother, so the grandmother took the grandchildren to stay with her in the mid-west. She later thought it right that the children have contact with the father’s family, and brought the children to Alaska on a short visit. OCS seized the children and later managed to adopt them out to strangers despite the grandmother’s best efforts. When I asked her what the solution was, she immediately said, “Record all conversations!” She said OCS workers lie constantly in and out of court, and without recording all conversations there is no recourse.
• OCS workers commonly extort parents, “If you don’t relinquish your parental rights to these children, then we will seize the others.” Not understanding their rights, the intimidated parents do so and never see their children again. One mother told me that OCS assured her that her children were better off with their paternal grandparents, and that she would have free access to her children if she relinquished her parental rights. She complied and the children were moved out of state within two weeks. Multiple tactics are used to get uninformed parents to relinquish parental rights.
• The same mother was previously told that she had to attend training in Anchorage in order to keep her children, but she had no job, no housing, no transportation in Anchorage. Her children were taken away as there was no way for her to take that training in her village. I arranged for that mother to have an interview with Governor Parnell’s Legislative Liaison, Heather Hebdon, in the Anchorage LIO, but the 45 minute meeting produced no results for that mother.
• Instead of working with ICWA, OCS has been adversarial and has gone out of its way to keep village people uninformed about the purpose and legal authority granted by ICWA. At the same time, the criminal justice system in western Alaska is so broken that many village people are saddled with boundary crimes as they have had to plea-bargain out of exaggerated allegations and impossible bail requirements. Those families will never be able to get custody of a related family member even if they maintain a good, loving home.
• Extreme turnover among OCS staff members statewide has produced inconsistent interpretation and implementation of OCS regulations. I understand that families can say absolutely anything they want, true, false, or exaggerated, while OCS must outwardly appear professional. There are multiple facets of all situations. It is not until you get to the third or fourth layer that the whole truth starts to emerge. Families do not attract OCS attention without having some form of functional issues. However, as I told Commissioner Struer in person, “You can’t fix dysfunction with worse dysfunction. OCS is more dysfunctional than the families they purportedly restore.” Over a long period of time, State government has been extremely non-responsive to the cries of the people. How unresponsive? As a State Representative, I told Governor Parnell, in the presence of Heather Hebdon, that one of my constituents had told me he murdered seven people. That man told me who he murdered and how he murdered them. Governor Parnell’s response was identical to that of over a dozen people in state government including the Commissioner of Public Safety… absolute… extended… dead… silence. Pleas regarding OCS transgressions have fallen on the same deaf ears. The anecdotes I have cited sound exaggerated, incredible, even impossible, yet it is that incredulity that has allowed the transgressions to continue in plain sight. “Certainly, this couldn’t be true!” I know there are concerned and responsible workers within the OCS operation, but I also believe that a large number, and perhaps majority, would end up behind bars if the 1” of plexiglass and impenetrable wall of “confidentiality” were removed.
1) To stop human trafficking in Alaska, start by dismantling OCS. A rigorous yet clear, informative, positive, restorative process must be created for families to follow who have been identified as lacking good parenting skills. Create a Restoration Handbook for families needing help including clear information regarding parents’ rights.
2) GAL’s must be held accountable as well. Biased and inept GAL’s also exist.
3) Malfeasance and outright perjury by OCS workers and GAL’s should constitute a felony with the same sentence as aggravated kidnapping because the result is identical: family members are stolen and scores of hearts are scarred for life.
4) The authority and resources of ICWA should be maximized in villages.
5) All conversations with parents must be recorded and digital copies provided for use in appeal processes.
6) All OCS activities within the statute of limitations should be seriously investigated and human rights violations prosecuted to the full extent of the existing law, with guilty OCS workers doing actual prison time. Prove to the wounded families and all the people of Alaska that reform is genuine.
In sum, OCS is an evil entity whose reign must end, at least in current form. For those who think they are not impacted by current OCS issues, the question arises- If government can seize children without accountability for alleged “abuse,” who then defines abuse? Is my personal belief system or your personal belief system abusive? If not today, could it be tomorrow?
Family is the fundamental inviolable structure in a stable society. Healthy family values must be nurtured, encouraged and defended.
Thank you for your attention. Please fully support Rep. Wilson’s efforts.
*The posts made in this blog are of our opinion only* Without Prejudice UCC 1-207