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Extensive improvements to Children’s Services under way in Bethel area

Changes include new positions, added bandwidth for 'Western Region'

(Anchorage, AK) - As part of ongoing and wide-ranging efforts to improve services to Alaska's children and families, the Department of Health and Social Services has several significant system improvements under way in Western Alaska.

These include: allocating and recruiting for additional positions for Office of Children's Services workers in the area; purchasing additional bandwidth to improve Internet access for that office; and creating a headquarters for the region in Bethel.

"We must be more responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable kids and families and to our many community partners. We strongly believe these changes will make a big difference in the way we do business in Western Alaska," DHSS Commissioner Bill Hogan said. "We have given ourselves a June 30 deadline to have these improvements completed."

As part of this plan, the Office of Children's Services will expand from its current four to five service regions within the state. The newly proposed region will be named the "Western Region" and will include Bethel, Aniak and St. Mary's. Currently those communities are part of the Southcentral Region, which is headquartered in Wasilla.

The state's Citizen's Review Panel advocated for a separate, western service region in its 2008 and 2009 annual reports to the Legislature. Beginning in the fall of 2009, a taskforce was formed to improve service delivery of child protective services to the western part of Alaska. Members were drawn from the Alaska Court System, Alaska State Legislature, DHSS and other agencies. Representatives included Judge Douglas Blankenship, Rep. Bob Herron, Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, Rep. Wes Keller, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, Sen. John Coghill, Commissioner Bill Hogan and OCS Director Tammy Sandoval.

Gov. Sean Parnell and key members of the Legislature added their support at the start of the legislative session, agreeing this would become a state priority in 2010. 

"The Citizen's Review Panel is so pleased that the Governor and OCS have prioritized these issues," said panel chair Susan Heuer. "Western Alaska has critical child protection concerns that will be addressed much more effectively with a local administration and improved high speed Internet capability."

Office of Children's Services Director Tammy Sandoval said that these efforts are part of a long-term plan to provide tangible and measurable improvements in how the residents of Western Alaska are served. "The work our employees are doing in the region is vital," Sandoval said. "These wide-ranging improvements will give them tools they need to get the work done."

Intensive recruitment efforts to fill newly allocated and vacant positions in the region are currently under way.

The Western Region includes approximately 14 percent of Alaska's land area and 4 percent of the state's population, and is culturally distinct due to the large Yup'ik population.

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