Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2005

Child-protection audit finds problems

ANCHORAGE - An audit released Friday finds major problems with the state's child protection office and also points to deficiencies in its juvenile justice operations.

Troubles included high turnover at the Division of Family and Youth Services and the Division of Juvenile Justice, and high caseloads in both divisions.

The audit also pointed to poor oversight of state grants to private contractors, possible misuse of funds and abuse of residents at a state juvenile center in Juneau.

State officials say they already are addressing most of the recommendations. Much of the material dates back years and doesn't assess the current state of affairs, they said.

One of the most alarming findings was that DFYS performed only limited reviews of the deaths of children in its custody.

OCS said it intends to do thorough reviews when they are needed, the Department of Health and Social Services said in response to the audit.

The audit was requested by lawmakers in 2002 to examine practices at the two divisions.

Legislators are concerned the report took so long to complete, wrote Sen. Gene Therriault, chairman of the Budget and Audit Committee, in a letter accompanying the audit's release.

Child services officials said they agree with the gist of many of the audit's recommendations, but consider it unfair and outdated, said Janet Clarke, assistant commissioner. The department has long been working to address many of the issues raised, she said.

Pat Davidson, state legislative auditor, said the audit still is relevant. She said most of the most promised improvements are not yet complete.

OCS's 450 employees investigated more than 12,000 reports of child abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2004 and watched over about 2,000 children taken from their parents.

Pre-pregnancy abuse high for young women

ANCHORAGE - Pregnant women 20 or younger report the highest rate of physical abuse in months preceding a pregnancy, according to state figures released Friday.

The report also showed that rates of pre-pregnancy physical abuse are highest in the state's southwest and northern regions.

The state epidemiology section within the Division of Public Health said lowest abuse rates were reported in the Interior.

Overall, 9 percent of women who delivered babies in Alaska in 2001 reported suffering physical abuse within 12 months preceding their pregnancy. Nineteen percent of women age 20 and younger reported abuse in months preceding their pregnancy. For comparison, less than 3 percent of Alaska women aged 35 and older reported physical abuse in months preceding a pregnancy.

Doctors nationwide now say violence may be a bigger threat to a pregnant woman's life than pregnancy-related disease such as diabetes.

Firm searches for methane in Mat-Su

WASILLA - A Canadian company is planning to drill a test well for coal bed methane in the Mat-Su area early next year.

Storm Cat Energy Corp. is looking for conventional natural gas with the test well, said chief executive Scott Zimmerman, but the project also will let the company evaluate the presence of coal bed methane.

Zimmerman said Storm Cat hasn't decided where the test well would go, but said it would be on land near Big Lake.

"There's potential for it (coal bed methane)," Zimmerman said.

Officials with Storm Cat said any production would be handled responsibly.

Before joining Storm Cat, Zimmerman worked as a vice president for Evergreen Resources. Evergreen's pursuit of coal bed methane in the Valley sparked fears of spoiled drinking water and noisy equipment on private property.

The hubbub spurred the borough to change the rules governing coal bed methane development, setting standards for where companies can put wells and for notifying residents when drilling is proposed.

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