David Ignell: AK Mom goes to court to try to get her children back, but it’s David against a systemic Goliath

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By DAVID IGNELL

For readers following the tragic “AK Mom” story, I’m sad to report that George’s 16th birthday and third consecutive Easter away from home passed without Gov. Mike Dunleavy reuniting the family.  

Dunleavy’s inaction means that AK Mom must next go through a long, drawn-out trial to get her children back. The trial starts this week, but Judge Kirsten Stohler has scheduled three weeks of trial days spread out over the next three calendar months. The trial won’t conclude until July.  

The Office of Children’s Services will be represented by the Alaska Attorney General. AK Mom will be represented by a sole practitioner. The Guardian Ad Litem, the Knik Tribe, and lawyers representing the children through the Office of Public Advocacy will also participate. 

No jury will be involved. It is up to Judge Stohler to determine if AK Mom’s children get to return home. The judge has not yet determined if the press will have access to the trial.

Has anything changed in the last 30 years?

Alaska legislators should be closely scrutinizing the actions of the Office of Children’s Services, Guardian Ad Litem, and Office of Public Advocacy during this trial. It’s a rare opportunity to gain valuable insight into the motivations of a dysfunctional foster care system that has challenged our Legislature for decades.  

In 1990, a Family Law Review Task Force, chaired by Sen. Jack Coghill, held hearings in which 280 Alaska citizens submitted public or confidential testimony. The task force’s final report was particularly harsh on these State family service providers stating, “generally speaking, they are viewed as not accountable for their actions, more interested in protecting the agencies than in providing adequate services, nonresponsive, obstructionist and disingenuous.”

Why is the Alaska attorney general going after AK Mom with both barrels loaded?  

I suspect one of the State’s objectives in the trial is to muscle out a win or favorable settlement, and leverage that outcome to discredit the federal class action suit filed against Office of Children’s Services last summer. AK Mom’s children represent 5 of the 13 children in that class action lawsuit, or 40% of the named children.

This indirect assault on the class action lawsuit could help the State avoid a formidable legal team with deep pockets in federal court.  That team consists of 11 lawyers from three Alaska law firms and a national non-profit that advocates for children in dysfunctional foster care systems like Alaska’s. 

The Attorney General must try to prove Office of Children’s Services is a better parent than AK Mom. 

His attorneys will try to steer Judge Stohler’s attention away from the many appalling facts MRAK readers are by now familiar with – the children being split up from each other, 60 different placements including extended care in motel rooms by a transport company, multiple runaway attempts, bad grades, etc. 

The State could have a tactical advantage in presenting their case first. If Stohler allows it, Office of Children’s Services officials will have days to nitpick mistakes they perceive AK Mom has made raising five children she adopted with fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) over the last 17 years. Much of that evidence will likely be hearsay contained in notes authored by Office of Children’s Services employees, some with axes to grind against AK Mom.  

Then the State will bring in experts and other witnesses who claim the kids are doing better with Office of Children’s Services. Most of these witnesses may receive economic benefit through the State. Money can persuade loyalty; Office of Children’s Services has a lot of cash and can also influence other government agencies.  

The discernment of truth can often be assisted by focusing on what’s missing.  In this case, who’s the State not calling as witnesses?  

Will the Attorney General call the many church members, teachers, friends, and even complete strangers, who observed the family closely and feel AK Mom was very loving and responsible towards her children?  Will he call the Office of Children’s Services social worker who understood FASD and was supportive of AK Mom, but who was removed from the case when Office of Children’s Services took the children?

Much ado about nothing

The truth in this case is simple. From the perspective of people who understand the effects of FASD on children, AK Mom’s family was doing remarkably well.  Even people who don’t know much about FASD noticed big behavioral improvements after a new medical management provider utilized “Genomind” testing. The kids were loved and were happy.  They were doing well in school. It was a compelling story of hope for FASD children.

David Ignell: OCS pre-empts a child’s family time for sex education, without parental consent

However, some of the Office of Children’s Services personnel and members of the established medical industrial complex wouldn’t even acknowledge that AK Mom is a registered nurse who understands FASD better than they do. They didn’t like it when AK Mom stood up to them and didn’t go along with their opinions. Their animosity towards AK Mom grew to the point where they decided to teach her a ruthless lesson at the expense of the health and safety of her five children.

Judge Stohler can save a ton of court time and State resources by cutting directly to the chase and focusing on the actions of the State and medical providers in the months leading up to the removal. By taking this approach, Stohler can more quickly return AK Mom’s children to the safety of their home. There is an established risk that something bad could happen to these kids between now and July.    

SCAN’s history of reckless Munchausen claims

My original article about AK Mom outlined the role that Dr. Barbara Knox and the Alaska CARES facility played in taking the five children. The danger Knox presented to Alaskan families has been well documented and she is long gone, but Office of Children’s Services still dug in their heels.   

David Ignell: Grand jury investigations into OCS continue to be hijacked

Knox had help from down south. The initial allegation of Munchausen, or medical abuse, came out of a group within Seattle Children’s Hospital known as Safe Child and Adolescent Network, or SCAN.

SCAN’s former Medical Director is Kenneth Feldman, a doctor of considerable controversy in the Pacific Northwest. Feldman was involved in SCAN’s Munchausen claims against AK Mom and later recommended that all five children have no contact with her. OCS then used these allegations to try avoiding important federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Carol Smith, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, wrote a pair of articles in 2002 about multiple cases where Feldman was involved in breaking up families with unsubstantiated claims of medical abuse. One mother who lost a child to a bad diagnosis by Feldman called it “medical stalking.”

Seattle P-I: Persecuted parents or protected children?

According to Smith, Dr. Michael Weinraub testified that Feldman was reckless in his medical consultation, that he had a preconceived opinion of abuse, and that he based his recommendation on limited records.  

Seattle P-I: Suspicions cost one family the child they wanted to adopt

Dr. Gil Kliman, a San Francisco psychiatrist who testified against Feldman in several lawsuits was quoted in a Smith article as saying, “It looks to me like there is a big epidemic of Munchausen surrounding Dr. Feldman.”  

The rate of Feldman’s allegations so alarmed Kliman that he filed a complaint with Washington authorities citing the “error rate Dr. Feldman has in making this diagnosis, and the frequency with which the children have other causes for their conditions”.

Insisting on in-person medical visits for autistic kids with FASD triggers medical abuse claims

SCAN claims it got involved because of complaints from Seattle Children’s Hospital staff that AK Mom was insisting on in-person visits instead of Zoom calls for her two autistic boys during the Covid outbreak.   

What has this world come to when a mother’s insistence on in-person medical visits triggers concern of abuse by a hospital? Especially for autistic boys with FASD and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, who don’t do well on Zoom calls.  

The Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities publishes a pamphlet entitled “9 Core Messages: What Everyone Should Know About Prenatal Alcohol Exposure”.  Regarding attention and focus, it lists the following challenges about FASD children: “Easily distracted, memory challenges, difficulty staying attentive or engaged.”  

Making Seattle Children’s Hospital’s behavior even more egregious is that just a few months earlier, an Alaska medical provider had responded to the family’s behavior on a Zoom call to claim AK Mom was mentally injuring and physically abusing each of her children. These 10 allegations were later found to be not substantiated by the Office of Children’s Services social worker who fortuitously understood FASD. 

Can anybody blame AK Mom for insisting on in-person visits from that time forward?  

I urge every participant in the trial, doctors and psychiatrists included, to read up on FASD immediately. One study found that only 34% of pediatricians feel prepared to manage and coordinate the treatment of FASD. Another study found that 82% of psychologists reported being unprepared to manage people with FASD. 

After the staff complaints, SCAN says they reviewed Seattle Children’s Hospital medical records that led to their Munchausen claims.  However, there’s plenty of evidence in those records that didn’t support this allegation.   

For instance, a 2019 letter from a Seattle Children’s Hospital psychiatrist ended with, “I hope you will join me in supporting this remarkable family guided by [AK Mom] single handedly raising these remarkable boys to reach their full development potential.”  

But what makes SCAN’s action most absurd is their admission they didn’t review all the medical records involved.  It’s very disturbing that SCAN doctors not only recommended an Alaska family be broken up based on limited information, but then lobbied to prevent AK Mom from having any contact with her children.

Was the Munchausen allegation a ruse intended to avoid the Indian Child Welfare Act?

The Indian Child Welfare Act lists several requirements that the Office of Children’s Services must satisfy before removing an Alaska Native child from their home. One is satisfying a court that active efforts have been made to provide remediation services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the family. 

It appears to be a slam dunk case that the Office of Children’s Services broke this federal law. If the Office of Children’s Services was concerned about Munchausen, they had a duty to engage remediation services and rehabilitative programs for the family before breaking them up. 

Office of Children’s Services clearly didn’t do this.     

The Indian Child Welfare Ac also requires that no placement can be ordered in the absence of a determination, by clear and convincing evidence, that staying in the home will result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. The original judge in AK Mom’s case, Kari Kristiansen, appears to have violated this duty.  

For example, consider Karen, who was three months shy of her 13th birthday. Karen didn’t have autism, so she wasn’t being seen by Seattle Children’s Hospital doctors. On the night of her removal by Office of Children’s Services, Karen thought she’d be able to stay with her mother because she wasn’t on any medications.  What clear and convincing evidence did Kristiansen find that Karen would sustain serious emotional or physical damage remaining with AK Mom?     

Office of Children’s Services and its army of lawyers have bullied AK Mom for two long years. Hopefully, Judge Stohler will begin the trial focusing on SCAN’s troubling conduct and the Office of Children’s Services’ avoidance of Indian Child Welfare Act. She can return the children to the safety of their home this week.  

David Ignell was born and raised in Juneau, where he currently resides. He holds a law degree from University of San Diego and formerly practiced as a licensed attorney in California. He has experience as a volunteer analyst for the California Innocence Project, and is currently a forensic journalist and author of a recent book on the Alaska Grand Jury.

David Ignell: George is still at peril due to Office of Children’s Services

David Ignell: Grand jury investigations into OCS continue to be hijacked

15 COMMENTS

  1. The odds are good that the state attorney general will prevail in this case because the deck is stacked. The judge is paid by the state of AK but even if that wasn’t the case, the AK judicial system operates on the good Ol’ Boy system and is corrupt to the bone. Ask yourself why we have state troopers (no offense against state troopers) rather than sheriffs? Dunleavy should step up to the plate or step down.

  2. It’s not easy to comment on an issue while lacking particular details. However, it is understood details must be withheld to protect identities. That said, this matter has all the appearance of power-obsessed bureaucrats bullying a foster family whose matriarch is not be easily cowered. It looks like they are making an example of her.
    .
    Generally-speaking, most government agencies take their share of public criticism. However, I must say the Division of Child Services seems to stand out as particularly infamous. Can anyone cite an example of a client voluntarily exclaiming how wonderfully and compassionately they were treated by OCS? I would be surprised. This agency begs a thorough, independent, investigation.

  3. It all started with the BIRTH CERTIFICATE which originated in Europe as a SETTLEMENT CERTIFICATE for landless paupers/slaves. The BC isn’t just recorded; it is registered as State/STATE property, resulting in the child becoming a ward of the State/STATE which are corporations with corporate file numbers and DUNS numbers as businesses. CPA is just a franchise or sub-corporation of the parent company in business to make a profit. The parents, grandparents and children are the victims. Since these foreign service providers are in it for the profit, they use coercion, threats, extortion; whatever it takes to get their way.

  4. Actually the Alaska State American Common Law Courts are up and running now after being dormant for over 150 years. And they have ordered the Territorial Courts and the MUNICIPAL COURTS to start obeying the Public Law instead of acting under color of law – Public Policy of the Corporations.

  5. In the best interest of a child…
    Tomorrow, April 25th adjudication trial start for AK Mom in Palmer to get all her children back home and start healing from the past years of a horrific rupture that separated her from her children, and the siblings from each other. In the best interest of a child how should a parent proceed? What should Governor Dunleavy do?

    Experience and knowledge from several years ago, and as current as February 14, 2023 I’m hearing the same problem over and over without a remedy being addressed to fix OCS. ‘https://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HHSS%202023-02-14%2015:30:00

    Governor Dunleavy inherited this huge monster called OCS but in all his efforts to fix the problem, OCS to date remains dysfunctional. The message to every AK Mom, Dad, Grandparent, Auntie, Uncle, etc., is don’t call OCS or have anything to do with them. We as parents, grandparents, etc., must not only protect our children from abuses, neglect and abandonment, but also from the State of Alaska OCS dysfunctional system.

    Why is AK Mom and her children going to trial tomorrow? Does the State have a bigger interest and NOT the best interest of a child(ren)?

    Why was the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact between Certain Alaska Native Tribes and Tribal Organizations and the State of Alaska created? “…This Compact reflects the State of Alaska’s constitutional and statutory obligation…to ensure improved compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act…and improve the well-being of all Alaskan children and families.” Friday, August 5, 2022 HB 184, a bill codifying the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact became State law.
    ‘https://youth.gov/announcements/historic-alaska-tribal-child-welfare-compact-becomes-law

    Mass exodus…Dr. Barbara Knox ‘https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2021/11/15/mass-exodus-at-alaska-child-abuse-clinic-as-medical-director-accused-of-bullying-and-misdiagnoses/

    Palmer Court calendar ‘https://public.courts.alaska.gov/web/scheduled/docs/DPCNB-3PA.pdf

    The State of Alaska has the power and tax payer money to fund this trial that is scheduled to go on and on for a few weeks but AK Mom is having to pay her own attorney fees, expert witness fees, fees for exhibits that have to be submitted to the court and attorneys, etc. This is a huge financial burden on AK Mom but she is not letting money or the State STOP her from doing her utmost to protect her children and keep them all together.

    In the best interest of the children, and discussions with Governor Dunleavy, AK Mom and her children need him to intervene to ensure her child(ren), are are kept free from further abuse, neglect and abandonment. The whole well-being of the children and the whole family is paramount.

  6. Governor please start settling. WHERE IN EVIDENCE HAS THE Indian Child Welfare Act ever been applied? IN HOW MANY YEARS? $per child?.. Pay up. Send them home please asap. That is what we would you to do.

  7. “When the government fears the the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

    If this system doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of protecting children and placing them in better circumstances, than it shouldn’t exist at all.

    Where is our governor and elected representatives on controlling this blight on our society? Children are being removed from people they shouldn’t be, and left with people they shouldn’t be.

    Even if children are living in difficult conditions with their biological parents, they are better off with them, than being removed….to a point. I say this as someone who was physically abused and mistreated myself.

    It’s different if the child is being legitimately so abused that they WANT to be removed. In which case, one would hope there is a relative or close friend, who is willing to take up the responsibility to love and care for the child properly.

    When OCS removes a child, there is much crying and turmoil. The child running away and trying to contact their parents is evidence they did the wrong thing.

    In removing a child, to only allow them to see their parent for AN HOUR A WEEK, unless the child had been beaten or sexually abused, is abuse itself, causing trauma to both parents and children….and grandparents. Like they don’t realize that…

    My grandchildren were also OCS victims.
    Try finding a lawyer that isn’t on the government’s payroll you can hire. I finally found one that told me it was possible to remove the children from OCS custody, and have a private entity deal with the reasons they were removed.

    In a visit I paid to the supervisor/caseworker for my daughter’s case, I mentioned that the money they were giving to the aunt/foster parent wasn’t hardly being spent on them. Her response, “I don’t care if they are buying drugs with that money,” with a look of affirmation and too bad!!!! (My grandchildren were removed over drug abuse by the parents.) No joke, she really said that 15 years ago. Today she is in a position of authority with CPS!

    Very telling comment she made. Why does OCS really exist?

    Did you know that they not only pay foster parents to care for children, but many adoptive parents also get a substantial check every month till the child turns 18, that they don’t keep track of?

    The paternal grandfather who adopted my grandchildren was abusive and lost custody of them in the lower 48. He never told Alaska. He continued to get $1,500 a month for four years, that he turned over to his ex who got guardianship.

    I got guardianship from her for one child, while she continued to keep the state money for two years. She was also in the lower 48. When I got guardianship of the second child, and said something about that check, she turned it over to me.

    I had to go through a hassle to report this matter to the state a year later. We don’t have an inspector general here that investigates fraud. I did get the payment stopped.

    What to do?

    There should be a board overseeing OCS/CPS, that has authority and answers to the public with their grievances.

    The bar should be raised significantly to make it more difficult for the government to take children away from their parents.

    When a caseworker does take away children from their parents, they need to read them all of their rights first, and give them a copy of it and a list of relevant resources.

    It should be required that there be a video/sound recording of any and all interaction between the government and the parents and other relatives of the child from day one. The parents should be allowed to make their own recordings as well.

    The leaders need to lead, to root out the bad actors. The failure of them and the people to rise up against evil, has left the most vulnerable a target for the most diabolical form of exploitation… to be done to our own children, our future.

    Our own government is destroying families, the fabric of society. This thing is known and being allowed. Shame on those who have the power to combat this evil and do nothing, or not enough.

    • AK Grandma: Thank you for sharing your personal experiences about OCS.

      In 1990 and as a result of the Task Force’s efforts, legislation was passed to set up local Citizen Review Panels in each judicial district to review the case plan for each child in foster care. Family members had a right to be heard by the Panel as did the children themselves over 10 years of age.

      My research is ongoing, but one source indicated most of these local panels weren’t funded and set up. In 2003 the legislation was quietly wiped off the books. If any MRAK readers have knowledge about these past local panels, it would be helpful if they could share their experiences.

      Grand jury investigations into OCS are also needed across the state. The grand jury’s unique powers to establish important facts and suggest recommendations can be a powerful tool for the Legislature. Grand juries in each district can also be used to perform annual or biannual reviews of OCS operations.

    • I agree that it is our own government that is destroying families. Please listen to the February 14, 2023 presentations. By their owns words OCS needs to take immediate corrective measures.
      03:33:48 PM Presentation Alaska’s Citizens Review Panel Report
      04:07:45 PM Presentation Response from the Department of Family and Community Services, Office of Children’s Services
      ‘https://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HHSS%202023-02-14%2015:30:00
      Former Representative Tammie Wilson filed for an investigation years ago regarding OCS. The case is still opened as of December 30, 2022. Mr. Ignell also wrote to Governor Dunleavy and many State officials. He’s made public testimony in person to the 2023 Legislature regarding SCO 1993, safety of our children, etc. Mr. Ignell’s contact is ‘www.poweredbyjustice.com He might have some of his communications posted.

      Yes, I believe Governor Dunleavy can do something Article III § 1. Executive Power, § 16. Governor’s Authority The governor shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws…
      Alaska Judges need to understand the Alaska Statutes regarding domestic violence and best interest of a child, keeping families together, etc. Alaska Judges also need to be sure to always be fair to all Alaskans. Please listen to testimony supporting SB 31 at ‘https://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=SSTA%202023-02-23%2015:30:00

      I too am a Gramma and back in 2017 I knew NEVER call or report to OCS – scary! Read what Ms. Wilson wrote back in 2017 and then ask yourself what has changed for the betterment of our children and/or grandchildren in 2023.

      AK Mom, the children and their Grandma need immediate reunification to start healing from the horrific frightening rupture that has happened to them.

  8. If there is any way you can be at the Palmer Courthouse anytime starting tomorrow from 9 am-4pm until May 2nd to hear the lies being told about AK mom and her children; it would be awesome to support her! The State will present their case 1st and up to this point the AK mom will still not be able to defend herself.

    Then it will be her side but instead of having 6 days in a row as the State will have, she gets 3 days and then her next 3 days will not be until July 11th. Wow, isn’t that interesting how that worked out! Just a bit longer to keep the kids away from each other!

    Yes, the State is all about the well-being of children; aren’t they?

  9. Governor Dunleavy has an opportunity to use his authority to see that this family is reunited. I cannot imagine why he hasn’t already done so.

  10. Part I

    Mr. Ingell,

    I feel you have “hit the nail on the head” with your assessment of reasons the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) has continued with the current level of harassment against AKMom. The federal class action lawsuit was filed almost a year ago. AKMom’s children have been in foster care for 2 years. What better person to make an example of than AKMom?

    This lawsuit has been initiated to bring reform to the fostered care system, pointing out inadequacies and seeking improvement in the care and treatment of children in the “system.” No one needs to be made an example of. AKMom is not the only parent in Alaska that has had this sort has happen. The foster care system needs reform and it needs it now!

    The Alaska OCS Mission Statement is “Ensuring the safety, permanency and well-being of children by strengthening families, engaging communities and partnering with Tribes.” Along with that it also puts emphasis on “Safe children, strong families and that “children remain in their home whenever safely possible.”

    Read the OCS Mission, Vision, Guiding Principles and Values Mission under dfcs.alaska.gov. AKMom previously provided a safe home, she has 5 children all with special needs and they all seem to be thriving. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 12. They were all in private school and were doing well. Obviously AKMom was doing something right.

    Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is nothing to take lightly. It can also include AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aggression, inappropriate social conduct, breaking rules and laws, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, problems staying in school or completing school, problems with independent living and employment and inappropriate sexual behaviors. (Information provided by mayoclinic.org.) “Children with FASD tend to lack conscience, guilt and remorse after misbehaving.” Disruptive behaviors, aggression, impulsivity, rule breaking, asocial behavior, along with “generalized deficit in processing complex information”, to mention a few. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

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