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OCS is scrutinized

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Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 12:00 am

Nov. 30, 2012

To the editor:

Having spent the last 15 years working in child protective services, one of the hardest lessons learned early in my career was that no matter what, there will always be folks who will say the Office of Children’s Services didn’t do enough to protect a child or that we did too much. Opinions go one way or the other most of the time because the work is complex and confidential, and the stories you’ll likely hear about via the media are extreme and elicit strong emotional responses. However, the truth lies as with most things in life, somewhere in the middle.

OCS is neither perfect nor broken. We are a system comprised of people committed to child safety and strengthening families. We face the realities of abuse, addiction and much more every day because of that commitment and desire to help families.

We don’t decide who gets reported; those decisions are made by the public, by those with concerns for a child’s safety and/or are required to report by law. Of the thousands of investigations that are completed annually, approximately only 10 percent of those will open for ongoing services which then initiate legal proceedings to ensure due process.

While OCS has a great degree of authority, it comes with a great deal of accountability and intense scrutiny. Once the legal system is engaged, it provides an infrastructure to ensure compliance with state and federal laws. Public defenders, guardians ad litem, court appointed special advocates, tribal representatives, assistant attorneys general, judges and OCS staff have the collective responsibility to ensure families are served and treated appropriately.

In addition, we also conduct regular quality assurance reviews on cases statewide to monitor practice and policy implementation. We are subject to regular federal audits and scrutiny by other organizations, such as the Ombudsman’s Office and the volunteer based Citizen’s Review Panel.

Everyone at OCS regards our role as public servants with the utmost reverence. While we’ll never be perfect, every day we do our best to ensure Alaska’s children are safe and to serve the public in a manner that is respectful and appropriate.

Christy Lawton

Office of Children’s Services

Fairbanks

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