FAIRBANKS — The citizen panel that oversees the state’s child protective services will review claims the agency hasn’t followed state law.
The Alaska Citizen Review Panel, a federally mandated panel tasked with reviewing and monitoring the state’s child protective services’ policy and operation, decided at is March meeting to review claims brought forward by North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson, according to a news release this week.
Last year, Wilson publicly accused the state Office of Children’s Services of “legal kidnapping” claiming it was failing to follow child welfare laws. She called for a grand jury investigation into the matter and since has held public hearings on the agency.
State officials with the OCS have acknowledged shortcomings in the agency but have pointed to understaffed offices and overworked caseworkers as the contributors.
The grand jury reviewed her request and suggested it be forwarded to the Citizen Review Panel, according to court documents unsealed in mid-January.
The panel produces annual reports on OCS and conducts regular visits to OCS offices to check on compliance with its reports and recommendations.
According to the release, the panel will review the documents Wilson provided to the grand jury as well as additional documents it may see fit, but noted the recommendation of the grand jury doesn’t expand its powers.
“After careful consideration, and due consultation with legal authorities, the panel concluded that the grand jury does not provide the panel any additional authority, as claimed by some, beyond what is statutorily authorized,” according to the announcement.
The release also noted additional information, including information on individual cases, may be requested from the OCS if needed.
The action plan is due out by July 30 as part of the panel’s annual report, but the panel’s chair Diwakar Vadapalli, a public policy professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, tempered recommendations.
“Some of the issues raised by Rep. Wilson may have been addressed by the panel over the years. We need to examine the panel’s previous recommendations over the years,” he said in a prepared statement. “In any case, the panel’s recommendations are not legally binding, nor does the panel have any enforcement authority. It is up to the legislature and various advocates to pick it up from there.”
Wilson said in an interview Saturday she was glad to see the panel taking up the issues she’s gathered from talking with affected parents.
“I’m glad they’re doing it,” she said. “I’m delighted that they’re going to do exactly what the grand jury requested and they have a deadline for the report.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.