OCS calls increase with new year

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005

The month of January is one of three periods each year when the central Kenai Peninsula Office of Children's Services receives the most complaints, according to the office's chief investigator.

"January has been historically busy; a lot of complaints come in in April right around breakup; and when school starts is another busy time," said Bill Galic, an OCS social worker who supervises the four investigators working out of the Kenai office.

"One January, we had 85 new reports — twice the normal number," he said.

Galic sees the job of Children's Services (formerly the Division of Family and Youth Services) as one of insuring the safety of the child first. Then comes doing what is necessary to leave children with their families, he says.

Of the average 800 to 900 reports that come into the Kenai office annually, roughly 41 percent allege child neglect, 23 percent are about physical abuse, 12 to 13 percent are sexual abuse and 15 percent report issues involving mental injuries to the child.

Galic said he assigns 40 to 50 reports a month to the investigative workers.

That works out to 14 to 15 complaints per investigator per month, compared to a national average of 12 per month.

"Of those, we file a petition about once a month," Galic said, explaining that if OCS determines a child must be removed from a family, a petition needs to be filed notifying the courts.

"Sometimes we just ask the court to give us legal custody, without removing the child from the home," he said.

Depending on the circumstances, OCS might then refer the family to an agency that can help by providing food, housing or medical care.

OCS also might find social support for single parents, provide for day care assistance when the parents are seeking employment, assist with transportation needs or substance abuse counseling for the parents.

"We refer to virtually all the providers in the area," Galic said.

The office hears complaints on occasion that it isn't doing anything upon receiving reports of child abuse or neglect.

Galic said what the caller expects is that OCS comes and takes the children away from the family.

However, not all the reports are substantiated by the investigators.

"Forty to 50 percent of the complaints are substantiated," he said.

Even then, taking the child or children out of the home often is not the best solution.

"We don't make unnecessary removals. Taking kids away leads to other problems," Galic said.

Instead, OCS might ask the children's school to keep an eye on the children and the situation.

Or, Children's Services will remove the children for a short time — perhaps a month — and work with the parents in a supervisory role, returning the children to the family once the parents are clear on what the children's needs are.

"We have to be pretty careful. We have to think about the safety of the child," Galic said.

"We talk to the child and to the parents. I think we're careful in listening to all sides.

"We're not perfect, but if we do err, we err on the side of the child's safety," he said.

Many of the calls that come into the OCS Kenai office do not involve child protection issues, Galic said.

Someone might see the parents as having alcohol or substance abuse problems and report that the children are being abused.

"We find that the child is in school and doing well, the child is clothed and the child is reasonably happy," Galic said.

"We would refer the parents to community agencies that can help with the alcohol or substance abuse issue," he said.

At other times, callers might try to fit a situation into child protection when it is something else.

As an example, Galic said a neighborhood might have an unsightly pile of junked cars. One resident might have a 10-year-old child who could get hurt playing near the cars, and that person calls OCS saying there's a child protection issue.

"Now, if the parents were placing a 1-year-old child in the back seat of one of those junked cars for the day, that would be another story," he said.

Galic, who has been in his job for 10 years, said OCS has more staff members than it did when he first started, which has allowed them "to be better able to give the issues the time they require."

"A lot of times parents just need help with their kids," he said.

"If approached right, parents will step up to the plate and identify what needs to be done.

"If I were in their situation, I would want someone to help me find out what to do and what resources are available. We try to treat our clients that way," Galic said.

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