Deadlines on child protection reports clash

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Conflicting deadlines could hamper the efforts of a new commission examining the state's child protection system.

A key part of the commission's work -- a major federal audit -- is not yet complete, and the commission is supposed to wrap up its work by Oct. 1.

Commission members learned of the problem Thursday at their first meeting.

''That's critical. We've got to get that federal review before we are going to make a whole lot of progress,'' said Elmer Lindstrom, commission chairman and the state's deputy commissioner of health and social services.

Gov. Tony Knowles created the 16-member Commission on Child Protection to recommend the incoming Legislature and administration improvements in the state's system for children whose parents hurt them or fail to care for them.

He set a tight deadline for the panel's report so its work can be used during the transition from his administration. He also wants child protection to become a campaign issue in races for the Legislature and governor, according to a prepared statement from his office.

After a series of child abuse cases, including one in which a toddler died and another in which a 6-year-old was raped, Knowles made revamping Alaska's system of protecting children a top priority.

Laws were toughened, Division of Family and Youth Services was beefed up with dozens of new caseworkers, and more than 1,400 children in state custody have gotten permanent homes, the commission was told. But the state's rate of child abuse remains among the nation's highest.

The audit is through the Children's Bureau under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A draft has been sent to officials in Washington, D.C., who will send it to federal officials in Seattle before releasing it to the state, said Theresa Tanoury, a commission member and director of DFYS.

The audit probably won't be sent to Alaska until after Labor Day, Tanoury said. That is later than federal officials said last week, Lindstrom said. Under federal rules, states get two weeks to review their audits for technical mistakes before they become public.

The commission tentatively set a date of Sept. 13 to receive and discuss the audit and the state's plans to address problems identified in it. The state already has been briefed orally on preliminary findings.

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