Ombudsman Advocacy

dewine open letter

One of Governor Mike DeWine’s campaign promises was the establishment of a Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office. He delegated the task of making this happen to the Office of Children Services Transformation.

In his prior role as Attorney General, DeWine was a staunch advocate for abused children and teens. He referred to them as “victims of crime” (which they are), and thus under the purview of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, as well as ODJFS. He held a series of Child Safety Summits throughout the state, and included current and former foster youth in every single one.

Ohio foster care youth, alumni and allies appreciate Governor DeWine greatly, and are eager to expedite the timeline on this project.

Our recommendation is for this future office to be specifically for foster care youth and young adults, and be housed in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Our proactive communication regarding this has included many emails and phone calls, as well as:

What is the role of a Foster Care Ombudsman?

  • To act as an independent forum for the investigation and resolution of complaints made by or on behalf of the youth themselves and make appropriate referrals.
  • So that youth who are experiencing abuse in their biological, foster, adoptive, kinship, respite, residential and group home placements could contact that Office, and their concern would be independently investigated.

What are the benefits of having a Foster Care Ombudsman?

  • Serves as a protective measure to safeguard the physical safety and emotional well-being of youth whose lives are entrusted to the foster care system.
  • Ensure that foster youth are cared for and receiving the services they need
  • Provide a venue so that the voices of foster care youth and teens are heard, without fear of retribution.
  • Independent investigation of concerns related to placement, care and services.

What services are provided by a Foster Care Ombudsman?

  • Maintains a toll-free telephone number which foster children and teens may call from anywhere in the state with questions about their rights, their care and well-being, issues with their placement or services received while in foster care.
  • Listens to complaints, documents concerns, gathers all relevant information, remains neutral and impartial and provides information on how to help.

Why aren’t current systems already working to address this problem?

  • Ohio foster youth have shared concerns that their basic needs were not met in certain placements, and that they were being placed in unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions.
  • They have reported difficulties in contacting their caseworker and/or GAL.
  • They have reported that their local agency hotlines often have long wait times, lack of follow-through on reports made directly by youth, and staff answering the phone who are not youth-friendly.

What are the risks of not establishing a Foster Care Ombudsman?

  • When a child or teen continues to experience abuse without intervention, the greatest risk is death.
  • When an abused child or teen runs away, that young person is at risk of human trafficking.

Here is a list of State Ombudsman Office Characteristics, as compiled by Juliana Barton, and a Ombudsman Issue Brief as outlined by Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio.

Three examples from other states:

1.) California’s State Ombudsman for the Foster Care Program was created in 1998 with the passage of Senate Bill 933, Chapter 311 (pg. 90): This bill would require the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson to be established in the State Department of Social Services with prescribed powers and duties. The fact that this position exists within the California Department of Social Services has created concerns that to effectively execute this role requires more authority and independence.

2.) Oregon’s Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman was created in 2013 with the passage of Senate Bill 123 (section 2, part 7): To have a hotline phone number that is available to the foster child at all times for the purposes of enabling the foster child to make complaints and assert grievances regarding the foster child’s care, safety or well-being.

3.) Texas’s Office of the Ombudsman was created in 2015 as established by S.B. 830.  The detailed wording of this bill maps out how Texas moved forward to:

  • Establish an office of consumer affairs
  • Employ staff as needed to fulfill the duties of its office
  • Develop statewide procedures in order to receive inquiries and complaints from foster yout
  • Review and investigate questions, complaints and concerns
  • If a complaint filed with the office alleges the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a child, assist that young person in reporting the allegation, and open a case for the duration of the department’s investigation of the allegation
  • Issue and file with the department a final report that contains the office’s final determination of a complaint’s merit and any recommended corrective actions to be taken by the department
  • Establish a secure form of communication with a child or teen who files a complaint with the office in order to ensure that young person is informed of the results of the office’s investigation, including whether the office was able to substantiate the child’s complaint.

Click here for additional information, including a chart that maps out the state, office, jurisdiction, and duties and powers of each existing Statewide Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office.

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