The Office of Children's Services on Kodiak Island has doubled its investigations into child maltreatment -- sexual, physical and mental harm, as well as neglect -- in the first four months of the year, and although the director of the statewide agency said allegations of abuse fluctuate year to year, a persistent drug problem may be making the issue worse.
In 2014, the OCS office in Kodiak has seen an average of 13 new investigations a month, said director Christy Lawton. There was an average of six to seven investigations per month last year, she said.
"In some years the number spikes up and down, but for the first four months of 2014 we're really ahead of the curve," Lawton said.
Kodiak Island, the second largest island in the United States and home to a Coast Guard base, is cut off from the rest of Alaska. The only means of getting off "The Rock," as locals call it, is by air or sea.
Four of a total of 53 reports that underwent follow-up investigation were sexual abuse; 13 were physical abuse, according to the agency's data. The majority of cases concern neglect. Lawton said the agency "screens in" -- a social worker shows up on someone's doorstep to determine if allegations of abuse are warranted -- what falls under its criteria for state invention. OCS is required to report all allegations of child sex abuse to law enforcement, and almost always refers every instance of serious physical abuse, Lawton said.
Over the past two weeks, Alaska State Troopers in Kodiak have received four separate reports of crimes against children, stemming from allegations of sexual and physical abuse. Troopers initially reported all of the alleged crimes on Wednesday. However, the first report came in on April 17. The terse trooper dispatches offer few details into the multiple cases.
Around 3:30 in the afternoon, "(Troopers) received a report of possible child abuse involving several children currently in foster care," the earliest dispatch says. The state's Office of Children's Services and Children's Advocacy Center are assisting with an ongoing investigation. Those organizations have a hand in all of the Kodiak-based investigations.
The foster children in that case have been removed from the home, said troopers' spokesperson Beth Ipsen.
Two more reports came in to troopers on Monday. Before noon, troopers received another call about possible abuse involving one child. Four hours later, there was a report of sexual abuse of a child.
"Investigation revealed other children may have been physically abused as well," a trooper dispatch says.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, troopers received a second report of a minor who had allegedly been sexually abused.
Despite the multiple reports happening within a two-week period, "every single one is different and not related," Ipsen said.
"According to Kodiak troopers, there is no rhyme or reason as to the influx of reports," she said. "AST are not going to release any additional details as they are still very much under investigation." She added more information will be released when and if charges emerge.
Lawton contends an increasing drug problem on Kodiak "certainly has an impact on child maltreatment rates."
Methamphetamine and heroin are inundating rural Alaska communities, according to the troopers' most recent annual drug report. "The number of heroin seizures in our urban and rural areas continue to grow. The (Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit) recognizes that there has been an increase in the availability of heroin throughout the state and it is no longer isolated to the urban areas," the report says.
Last month, the Kodiak Police Department seized more than $2 million worth of methamphetamine and high-grade heroin. It was the largest drug bust in the police department's history.