In his prior role as Attorney General, Governor Mike DeWine was a staunch advocate for foster care youth and alumni. He recognized that abused children and teens are ‘victims of crime, and thus under the purview of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. He held a series of Child Safety Summits, and made sure that current and former foster youth had a voice in each of them. He even hired a former foster youth to serve as his Director of Children’s initiatives.
Therefore, it was not surprising that one of Governor Mike DeWine’s campaign promises was the establishment of a Foster Care Ombudsman’s Office. He established a Children’s Services Transformation Council, and directed them to host a series of listening tours. During these Foster Care Forums, Ohio foster care youth and alumni repeatedly mentioned the future Ombudsman’s Office in our testimonies. Our recommendation is for this future office to be specifically for youth, and housed separately from children services.
Our ongoing communication regarding this includes:
- Email and phone call correspondence dating back to August of 2018
- A series of meetings with staff members, beginning in January 2019
- On February 15, 2020, our Letter to the Editor was published in the Columbus Dispatch.
- On April 11, 2020, we wrote an Open Letter to Governor Mike DeWine
Our testimonials include:
- Written testimonials from Julius Kissinger and Violet Ramunni
- Sharing testimonials in person
- Jonathan Thomas’ written testimony
- Jonathan Thomas’ video testimony
- Jeremy Collier’s written testimony
- Jeremy Collier’s video testimony
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.