Just one state Office of Children’s Services case worker is responsible for three Southeast communities unconnected by any road. The social worker’s caseload is spread between Petersburg, Wrangell and Kake.
There’s about 300 school-aged kids here in Wrangell. And Addy Esco gets to talk to any and all of them on a personal level. She’s the school district’s counselor. She can help kids get through a bad day they’re having, but that can on occasion stem from neglect or trauma.
“And sometimes to support our kids we need outside resources like an OCS worker,” she says.
That’s Office of Children’s Services — the state agency charged with protecting minors from abusive and dangerous situations in their home life.
But when a situation is most urgent, Esco says it can be nerve-racking.
“When I have a student or family that I know is in crisis and still having to wait 24 hours for a response, that’s a scary situation,” she says.
Wrangell lost its locally based caseworker in 2008. A Petersburg-based case worker is now responsible for Wrangell’s community. Ecso’s seen over-worked and burnt our caseworkers. Even if that wasn’t the case, she says there’s no substitute for a local presence.
“Having someone with boots on the ground here that I know that they are intimately connected with resources and families, for me I know that’s a game changer,” Esco says.
The school district and city agreed, and they got to work.
“We just felt like it was really time to start advocating,” says Lisa Von Bargen, Wrangell’s city manager. She and the mayor reached out to the state. After positive meetings with OCS officials, Rep. Dan Ortiz — an independent lawmaker from Ketchikan — proposed a budget amendment calling for adding a half-time state social worker.
With testimony from the community, Ortiz says the line item wasn’t a hard sell to his fellow legislators. So far it’s passed in the House Finance Committee.
“I think Wrangell did the best job of any community in my district of communicating with the house finance committee of their concerns and their needs,” Ortiz says.
But it’ll need to survive a House floor vote, get support in the state Senate and survive the threat of the governor’s line item veto power.
The position would cost about $58,000 to the state. Federal programs would help out too. And the city of Wrangell has offered office space — gratis.
Wrangell city officials say they’re also brainstorming how to provide parole supervision, a diversion program and adult protective services.