Violation of Alaska families by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) is nothing new. Some parents and family advocates have long documented abusive and illegal actions by this agency purporting to protect children. Alaska parents now AGAIN seek remedy through the Alaska Court System IF that is possible.
In her case against OCS, Rep. Wilson on September 9, 2016 stated: The Alaska Office of Children’s Services conducts interventions so aggressive they amount to legal kidnapping. [3AN-16-9924CR]
A shrill call for action, but the Grand Jury passed the buck
At an October 13, 2022 hearing before Third District Presiding Judge, William Morse, Parent Thomas Garber offered his renewed plea for a Grand Jury Investigation into practices of OCS. This writer attended this most recent hearing and detected an interest by Judge Morse to find a way to address the on-going OCS crisis. He had previously presided over such a Grand Jury investigation in 2016, when Rep. Wilson first brought voluminous testimony to the court.
Those grand jury recommendations were released by Judge Morse in January 2017. Rep. Wilson’s Grand Jury specifically stated that under Alaska Statute 24.55.010 – .340, the Ombudsman is Statutorily authorized. And, under Alaska Statute 47.14.205, the Citizen Review Panel is Statutorily required to address the concerns. Currently neither the Ombudsman nor CRP have officially announced active investigations of Children’s Services.1
From the Report: The Ombudsman’s role is to objectively review the administrative actions of state agencies to determine whether they are unlawful, unreasonable, unfair, or based on unacceptable grounds. The Ombudsman is not a citizen or consumer advocate. The role of the ombudsman is to help ensure that state government is serving Alaskans as efficiently, effectively, and equitably as possible.
Yadda-Yadda-Yadda. See how effective the Alaska Ombudsman was when charges of licensing agency inaction jeopardized security at the Ft. Greeley Missile Defense System:
This writer was NOT successful in obtaining information from Wilson for this story.
Alaska State Government in Crisis
DHSS—which includes OCS—is the most expensive and least effective agency in state government. Alaska Department of Education is the second most expensive agency demonstrating breathtaking failure year after year. This is a tradition our elected officials in the legislature and administration enable every legislative session in Juneau with ever more unaccountable funding.
State workers who are members of unions with negotiated pay and benefits approved by people they helped elect, are quick to equate poverty with neglect. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) specifies the treatment of Native people. Yet, those safeguards are not followed, and Native children are treated differently. OCS makes little effort to keep any families together with community-based services. Inconsistent application of policies and procedures by unlicensed and uninsured social workers—often arbitrarily dismissing Grandparent rights and roles in Child in Need of Aid (CINA) proceedings–instead creating alienation with typical OCS Soap Opera crappy case plans and bountiful excuses.
Judge Morse denied Garber’s petition with an Order September 4, 2018. It corresponded with David Haeg’s efforts to get a Grand Jury Investigation in Kenai.2
Meanwhile OCS takes kids away from their families, sweeping them up like salmon in fish wheels into sometimes marginal foster care and further crisis, creating ever more bureaucracy-induced dependency.
And now the slippery salmon is flying back at Judge Morse.
Undeniable OCS Dysfunction
Over 10 years Garber has been pursuing justice and accountability at OCS. And, despite adverse rulings, by OCS against him, Garber has over this time become an advocate for families with the same concerns. Simultaneously, Garber has managed to develop dialog and get an audience with Judge Morse. An episode dealing with one of his own sons caused Garber to realize something is not right with OCS. In fact, he was outraged at the agency intrusion into his own family.
Garber explained: The grievance process within OCS is defunct and non-existent. You go through all these processes, to appeal, and all this other stuff, and there’s no resolution. And so I, along with other folks over the years, have approached Judge Morse in the aftermath of what Rep. Wilson tried to do. We are now asking for another Grand Jury Investigation.
Networking on social media has provided an abundance of evidence, according to Garber: We have a couple of private groups on Facebook, with other parents–I hate to say they are victims–they are a part of this system, and they have come forward, you know, trying to figure out what their rights are. They are saying, “Hey, why is THIS happening?” They don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, but they’re putting their concerns out on social media. We have been gathering these stories, taking names, finding out which places in the department and where–Wasilla, Kenai, Juneau, Barrow, Bethel–wherever the families live that we can document abuse of Alaskans.
We have found what OCS typically does when they take kids from a home and put them in foster care, explained Garber. Often the parents have recognized disabilities. Yet, the legal system will not provide reasonable accommodations. When the state takes the proceedings into the judicial system it becomes more of a mess. OCS inevitably makes criminal allegations in what are civil proceedings.
Here is the difference, according to Garber: In criminal proceedings, you have protections: Right? To an attorney, right to records, right to evidence, exculpatory evidence. But in civil proceedings you don’t have those same safeguards. So OCS, uses civil proceedings to make criminal allegations against the parents, basically using a restraining order, or other order by the court, to take the kids and put them in foster care. Then, after throwing the family into crisis, the system often doesn’t have the means to provide the services that the children need–medical or psychological–because they do not have enough foster care homes, meaning the whole agency is in on-going crisis.
What Must Parents Do when Kids are Taken by OCS?
Parents are supposed to have case plans, and do certain things that they are required to do, continued Garber. They’ll give the parents referrals; mental health, or drug and alcohol, or whatever. But, when they go to get those referrals–they’re just referrals not prescriptions, where you take it to the pharmacy and get it filled–it’s a REFURRAL: “please go.” A lot of the counselors and people are so overwhelmed with all the case loads, that clients wait six months to get in, while the courts are processing the paperwork to take their children–even denying grandparents custody. Everything’s slow and methodical, yet they expect you to be doing certain things in certain time-frames and everything becomes MORE orchestrated drama.
I want Judge Morse to address the rights of the people to have a meaningful grievance process, said Garber.
One hour with Judge Morse
About 20 people were in the gallery on October 13 in support of Garber as he took his place at the table to ask Judge Morse for a Grand Jury to investigate OCS. Judge Morse was instructional in his introduction, explaining his experience with this case and how he sees the possible role of a new Grand Jury.
Judge Morse: Typically, there’s a prosecutor there, and the grand jury and the prosecutor work out how to get information that the grand jury wants before it. And the prosecutor plays sort of an advisory role: “Here are the rules. Here are statutes. Here’s instructions that you’re supposed to follow.”
Then Judge Morse became more specific about expectations: A federal case has been initiated here recently. I’ve seen the documents. (3:22 – CV – 00129 – JMK) but I haven’t read them. I don’t know anything—It’s in very early stages. There have been other complaints raised about OCS by citizens, but I don’t know any more about what Mr. Garber’s particular concerns are. So what I’m most interested in, Mr. Garber, is for you to tell me what it is you want to do.3
Some of the biggest problems in Alaska, according to the lawsuit: OCS worker caseloads are too high, sometimes three times the national average. Turnover is at a crisis level, topping nearly 60% annually and leading “mission critical tasks to go unmet,” according to a legislative report cited. Children are shuffled between foster homes too much. And Alaska Native children, who make up nearly two-thirds of the youths in foster care, aren’t provided with Alaska Native foster homes or other services, violating the Indian Child Welfare Act and “often inflicting deep wounds of cultural loss in the process.”
Judge Morse continued: For example, if what you want is to indict the head of OCS for criminal negligence, or something like that, we’re done. You can go to the prosecutor’s office and say “please investigate this alleged crime,” and they have the authority to do that or choose not to. IF, on the other hand you want them to investigate some aspect of an agency, then what I am contemplating doing is getting you to educate me about what you want to do.
I don’t think I have the authority to tell the grand jury not to do it, Morse continued. You know, if you want to investigate space, aliens and Mars, I’m not going to waste the grand jury‘s time. If you’ve had some other more reasonable requests that seems to invoke, you know, public welfare and safety, I’m going to say to the grand jury: “Here’s a brief summary of what this gentleman has and wants you to do. And I had this hearing, where he fleshed it out more, if you want to listen to that record. You don’t have to, but you may.” Then the grand jury will decide whether to exercise that authority. I think a majority of the grand jurors must authorize this–it can’t just be one person or two.
Garber responded: Going by your order here, there’s four points: “Number one says be prepared to describe in detail what I seek to have the grand jury do,” which I have prepared a folder for your consideration. Second, “confirm that I do not seek to have the grand jury issue a criminal indictment,” that is not what I intend to do. My wish is to identify deficiencies and certain statutes and policies–investigate patterns of crimes or patterns of behavior within the Office of Children’s Services.
Judge Morse: You want to not indict anybody, but you want to have them investigate what you believe is criminal behavior by OCS?
Not necessarily criminal behavior, said Garber. This grand jury would be asked to specifically come up with the solutions to the problems presented.
Morse clarified: I’m not sure that the grand jury has any authority or capacity to propose solutions. They clearly write recommendations, they clearly have the ability to say: “Here is conduct which we think affects public safety, or action or inaction that affects public safety or public welfare, right? And presumably, children or their families are being affected by what you think is out there. And so the grand jury would probably say, “we think that parents are being affected, or children, and this is a problem. Go forth. Somebody deal with it.” The grand jury is not going to say: “I think you need to hire a PhD.” You want to expose what you think is either a dereliction of duty or is it just failure for them to do what they ought to be doing?
This hearing went on for quite a while longer and as it neared the end of the allotted time Judge Morse asked if Garber would like to have another hour December 14. Garber affirmed he would like to further pursue this matter and given what perimeters have been identified advocates for families being harmed by OCS should be hopeful.
The good news is that the 3rd Judicial District of the Alaska Court System is considering giving parents–as a result of Garber’s persistence–another bite at this Grand Jury apple. The bad news is that the agency will continue to grind parents under the heel of state government if they are found to be negligent or deficient in their management of kids requiring ever greater resources to support and maintain in this economy.
As with state funded government schools, poor outcomes at OCS will likely result in more demand for services of the Alaska Department of Corrections.
 Ombudsman Report in Response to Grand Jury Referral of Inquiry into Office of Children’s Services, September 5. 2017.https://ombud.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Ombudsman-Report-to-Grand-Jury-re-OCS-9-5-2017-FINAL.pdf
Judge Morse Denial Order
Anchorage Daily News, Class-action lawsuit calls for major reform in Alaska’s ‘failing, dangerous’ foster care system, May 19, 2022.https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2022/05/19/class-action-lawsuit-calls-for-major-reform-in-alaskas-failing-dangerous-foster-care-system/
Are you glad this story was written? You won’t get this kind of story from Alaska mainstream media.
Could you please contribute to Independent Journalism?
- Ombudsman Report Conclusion in Response to Grand Jury Referral of Inquiry into Office of Children’s Services, September 5. 2017. https://ombud.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Ombudsman-Report-to-Grand-Jury-re-OCS-9-5-2017-FINAL.pdf
- Judge Morse Denial Order
- Anchorage Daily News, Class-action lawsuit calls for major reform in Alaska’s ‘failing, dangerous’ foster care system, May 19, 2022. https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2022/05/19/class-action-lawsuit-calls-for-major-reform-in-alaskas-failing-dangerous-foster-care-system/