Appendix E: Survey of Ombudsman Offices for Children in the United States*
In recent years, a growing number of States have developed ombudsman offices for the protection of children in need of State care and intervention. This national trend is directly related to public concern regarding the inadequacy of child welfare systems to protect and care for vulnerable children who are victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Limited resources, high staff turnover, and a lack of training and recruitment of experienced personnel have added to the States' inability to meet the needs of the burgeoning number of children requiring protection and care. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragic event, such as the death of a child known to State protective services, to focus attention on our Nation's most vulnerable children.
In response to the need for reforms, State policymakers, administrators, and elected officials have explored more aggressive steps to save children from abuse and neglect. One such avenue is the creation of State ombudsman offices designed to protect the legal rights of children in State care as well as to monitor programs, placements, and departments responsible for providing children's services. Advocacy on behalf of this voiceless population can enhance planning, cultivate coordination, and encourage the best utilization of limited resources that will improve outcomes for children and families in the State system.
In Establishing Ombudsman Programs for Children and Youth,1 the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law identified the Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate as a model ombudsman office for children.2 This national report, which recommended that each State establish an ombudsman office for children, has been a catalyst for the founding of new ombudsman offices. The Rhode Island office is frequently contacted and consulted by elected officials and policymakers when States without a child advocate office are exploring legislative initiatives to establish one. In July 1995, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation3 creating an Office of the Child Advocate modeled after the Rhode Island version.
Based on our many contacts with officials throughout the country, it became obvious that sharing vital information regarding the many roles that ombudsman offices can assume to benefit children was essential. The statutory jurisdiction, power, size, and role of the office can vary greatly, but the basic mission of the office is universal. Improving conditions for children in State care is the primary goal of our offices.
In an effort to be better informed about other ombudsman offices, we contacted agencies in all 50 States and obtained information from more than half of the States surveyed regarding their State offices for children. We were not able to include information regarding all of the responding agencies, but we have highlighted a representative group that appears best to fit the categories based on the information provided to us. It is our hope that this information will be helpful in the creation of new offices as well as in the expansion of existing offices.
Rhode Island Office of Child Advocate:
A. Historical Perspective
The primary purposes of a child welfare ombudsman office are to address complaints related to government services for children and youth, to provide a system accountability mechanism, and to protect the interests and legal rights of children and their families who are parties in the child welfare and juvenile justice arenas.4 The Rhode Island legislature was one of the first in the country to create an ombudsman-like office in the area of child welfare. The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) was established in 1979.5 It is a legal office that represents the best interests of individuals involved in the child welfare system as a class, and investigates and resolves complaints against the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) that may infringe on the rights of State-involved children. Special attention is given to children in care who are not entitled to appointed counsel, primarily voluntary admittees; and to children who, though represented in Family Court, need legal assistance in collateral matters such as public benefits, education, mental health, and employment.6 In order to carry out these mandates, the Child Advocate has broad statutory rights and powers, including the right to communicate privately with a child in DCYF care; to inspect, copy, and/or subpoena records regarding the child; to subpoena persons with whom the child has been placed or has received medical/mental health treatment; and to take appropriate steps to publicize the office's purpose and role.7 During 1995, the office handled more than 700 complaints from professionals, foster parents, family members, and concerned citizens.
Effective ombudsman offices maintain a degree of independence8 and are granted the power to act on complaints and investigatory findings. The fact that the Rhode Island OCA can litigate disputes on behalf of State-involved children is significant, because this ability most often serves to promote meaningful negotiation of grievances that leads to timely procedural and substantive reforms.
The functions of OCA are diverse9 and include the following tasks. First, in-State child fatalities in which the victims had some connection to DCYF are investigated. Formal investigations are conducted by multidisciplinary Fatality Review Panels comprised of staff from OCA and community members who have particular expertise serving as reviewers. The reviews culminate in public reports that focus on specific recommendations for reform. Eleven such reviews have been conducted since 1989.10 The ability to investigate fatalities thoroughly has statutory authority.11
Second, public and private residential placement facilities and shelters are periodically reviewed by OCA to ensure that the legal rights of children in care are protected and that the placement facilities promote safety and conform with mandated policy and procedure.12 A vital aspect of this review process is to interview children for feedback on the quality of the program and to inform them of their rights. Toward that end, all placement facilities must post a copy of the Children's Bill of Rights, which delineates the legal and civil rights of all children in State care.13 In order to solicit information and to encourage children to bring vital information to the attention of OCA, the office has the power to communicate privately, either orally or in writing, with any child in the care or custody of DCYF.14 OCA also assesses the quality of care provided to children by reviewing all investigations of institutional abuse involving residential programs, foster homes, the Rhode Island Training School, and daycare providers. As a result of this close review of formal complaints to DCYF, the office engages in followup procedures necessary to protect children living in out-of-home care.
Third, OCA adopts an active role in the legislative and public education processes.15 The Child Advocate sits on the General Assembly's Children's Code Commission, which reviews legislation relating to children, and routinely testifies in the General Assembly on legislative proposals related to children.16 The office publishes an annual public report summarizing all laws passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly that affect children.17 OCA fulfills its mandate to educate the public regarding its services in several ways, including making presentations at conferences, convening public hearings, conducting studies released as public documents, and actively participating on many committees, task forces, and coalitions that are concerned about children's issues.
To respond to the special needs of children in care who are either victims of crime or who qualify for special education, OCA delivers legal and advocacy services through programs targeted to address these populations. Regarding child-victims of crime, OCA is legislatively designated through Project Victim Services18 to identify and represent children in State care who may have a viable claim for victim's compensation. Similarly, representation for particular children in State care, those who do not have parents able or willing to make educational decisions for them, is provided by the State's surrogate parent/educational advocates program, managed by OCA.
B. Comparative Study: Rationale and Methodology
In January 1995, OCA mailed a letter requesting information about their offices to 150 agencies throughout the country identified in the Child Welfare League Annual Directory of Members as advocacy organizations. The purpose of this mailing was to gather information about ombudsman offices for children in the various States and to determine precisely the types of services available in each State. To date, responses from 26 States have been documented, with most of the respondents noting that the State has some type of ombudsman office or an identified agency responsible for performing ombudsman-like functions.19
Several student interns in the Rhode Island State Government Internship Program assisted in the compilation of the information received and in some instances in telephone surveys with some of the States identified in this report.
Summaries of the responsibilities of State ombudsman offices for those States responding to OCA solicitation are provided. The offices are classified by function and by State. Many States absent from examination in this report do have ombudsman-like offices. Other States have contacted OCA for information and assistance regarding the creation of an ombudsman office for children. Recent inquiries were made by the States of Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington.
Some of the agencies that exist throughout the United States to provide ombudsman services for children are profiled below. The listed agencies responded to the Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate's request for information.
ALASKA (Juneau and Anchorage)
The Office of Ombudsman in Alaska was established in 1975 to operate under the legislative branch of the State's government. Its role and powers are mandated by statute.20 Presently, there are 10 staff members and an annual operating budget of $700,000. In the past 2 years, funding has decreased, resulting in a significant cut in staff and the loss of an office located in the town of Fairbanks. However, at the same time, caseload has increased and demands on the agency have intensified. The ombudsman is well known and accessible to the public.
The purpose of the Alaska State Ombudsman's Office is to assist the public with questions and complaints about State agencies as well as problems with the University of Alaska system. It receives many complaints involving children in care of the Division of Family and Youth Services. The staff will investigate these complaints and, if a problem is found, recommend solutions. Also, in child support enforcement cases, a major portion of the office's workload, the office serves as a link between parents and the Child Support Enforcement Division.21
Written reports required for all investigated cases22 are submitted to the agency against which the complaint is made, to the complainant, and when appropriate, to the legislature and Governor. Each year, the ombudsman submits a list of subjects that, based on the complaint pattern and the office's investigations, merit legislative attention. The office has also completed reviews of child fatalities, but that service is more often provided by the Division of Family and Youth Services or State law enforcement agencies.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
Arkansas Advocates for Children (AAFC) is a private, nonprofit organization funded by membership contributions. It was founded in 1977 by Hillary Rodham Clinton and concerned citizens. There are 5 staff members and 22 board members who have an operating budget of $400,000.
The mission of the office is to advocate for children's rights and well-being.23 During the 1980's, the organization helped create the Governor's Commission on Early Childhood to ensure quality, affordable health care for all families. It successfully lobbied for legislation that would require mandatory participation in the Federal school breakfast and summer food programs, as well as for reforms to Arkansas' system of handling abused and neglected children. This led to more training for social workers and foster parents, along with improved placement and adoption procedures. Members are also responsible for updating Arkansas' juvenile justice system.24 In 1993, advocates established the Children's Data Center to help State agencies and policymakers direct resources for families.
The reports and research studies the organization has produced on such topics as school dropout rates and children without health insurance have led to vital legislation that has been a model for all States. The Arkansas Advocates for Children testify before the legislature, work with State agencies, serve on government commissions, and develop collaboration between public and private agencies.
Department of Social Services
The Complaint Resolution Process within the Department of Social Services was established in 1993 by executive order. It is a public, government-funded agency staffed by three employees who assist the State government in meeting the needs of children in State care. The agency monitors placement facilities and serves approximately 50 children annually, submitting written reports to the Governor's office. It also makes presentations, convenes public hearings, and conducts studies released as public reports. In the past 2 years, staff, budget, and caseload have remained constant.
Office of the Child Advocate
Connecticut recently passed legislation to create an Office of the Child Advocate modeled after the Rhode Island version.25 Previously, many of the functions of an advocacy office were performed by other entities in the State. Unlike Rhode Island's system of child protection, there was no Connecticut State agency empowered to bring class action lawsuits on behalf of children. That function was generally assumed by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. Connecticut's Commission on Children, Department of Children and Families, and Department of Social Services fulfilled some of the duties of other States' child advocacy offices.
In the wake of three Connecticut children's deaths within 8 days in the spring,26 on July 10, 1995, Governor John Rowland signed into law a measure establishing an Office of the Child Advocate responsible for all State programs involving the care of children. It provides that the Governor, with the approval of the General Assembly, appoint a child advocate knowledgeable about the child welfare system and the legal system. The child advocate may appoint such staff as deemed necessary.
The Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate acts independently of any State department in performing its duties. These duties include reviewing procedures of any State department serving children or affecting children's rights; reviewing facilities and procedures of institutions or residences, public or private, where juveniles are placed by the Superior Court or Department of Children and Families; and reviewing policies and procedures for placement of special needs children. It investigates complaints when it appears that a child or family needs assistance.
The office also evaluates delivery of services by agencies and entities providing State-funded services to children, recommends policy and procedural changes and proposals for systemic reform and formal legal action, conducts public education programs and legislative advocacy, provides training and technical assistance to guardians ad litem and special court-appointed advocates, and serves on the child fatality review panel.
Human Rights Advocacy Committee
Florida has a volunteer-staffed Human Rights Advocacy Committee (HRAC) in each of the 34 service districts of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). The committees are overseen by an appellate body, the Statewide Human Rights Advocacy Committee (SHRAC). The statewide committee may investigate threats to life, safety, and health without referral from a district committee.27
A State-run agency established in 1979 by the legislature,28 SHRAC has three volunteer employees. It has a statutory mandate to perform advocacy services and is funded by the legislature. While it does handle child welfare cases, including review of child fatalities and monitoring of placement facilities, its purpose is to investigate all complaints regarding HRS and serve as a check and balance on its programs.29 The office, therefore, is considered to operate independently of HRS to act as an impartial third-party mediator between HRS and its clients. It submits annual reports to the State summarizing complaints, activities, and recommendations.30 It has reported that in the past 2 years, while the number of staff has remained constant, caseload has increased.
Department of Children and Family Services
The Ombuds' Office operates within the State of Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), but independently of the bureaucratic structure. It was established in 1973 by executive order to investigate and respond to concerns relating to child welfare issues. About 50,000 children are served annually. The office compiles written reports and makes presentations at conferences. Five ombudsmen are employed, though staff, budget, and caseload have decreased in the past few years.
In 1993, the Illinois legislature created the position of inspector general31 to oversee delivery of DCFS services and to investigate child fatalities and complaints regarding any employee, foster parent, service provider, or contractor of DCFS. The statute also mandated establishment of a toll-free hotline for foster parents. The inspector general is appointed by the Governor, reports to the DCFS director, and may make recommendations for sanctions against service providers under DCFS jurisdiction. The inspector general makes annual reports to the legislature and Governor, including recommendations for administrative and legislative action.32
Ombudsman Program for Social and Rehabilitation Services
The Ombudsman Program for Social and Rehabilitation Services was established in 1990 by executive order. The office is a State agency with 12 employees. The purposes of the office are to receive complaints, address concerns, and advocate for all children and adults within the system. Approximately 40 percent of cases involve children's issues. In the past 2 years, staff, budget, and caseload have remained constant.
Inquiries and complaints are channeled through the Governor's Office and Social Rehabilitation Services. Recommendations to improve services are ordinarily made to the Youth Commission and occasionally to governmental authorities or legislative committees. The existence and functions of the office are well known and it is accessible to the public. Written reports are distributed statewide. The Youth Commission reviews child fatalities, monitors placement facilities, and uses legal staff to access the courts.
Office of the Ombudsman
The Office of Ombudsman, established by the legislature in 1980,33 is a State-operated agency within the State's Cabinet for Human Resources. It has 15 employees and an annual budget of $485,000, which is funded by the Federal and State governments. The office is statutorily mandated to advocate for citizens involved with cabinet services and particular government-funded programs and to respond to inquiries and complaints of cabinet members.34 Written reports are submitted to the Regulation cabinet, and recommendations for policy and procedural changes are made to governmental authorities. The functions of the office are well known, and the office is easily accessed by the public. In the past 2 years, staff, budget, and caseload level have all increased.
A Juvenile Care Ombudsman Office is currently being established within a reorganized Office of the Ombudsman in accordance with a Federal court consent decree.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Office for Children is a State agency charged with licensing and monitoring the child placement system. The Office for Children may work in conjunction with the Department of Social Services (DSS) to investigate complaints.35 DSS offices are regionalized and have experienced budgetary and staff increases in recent years.
Office of Children's Ombudsman
Michigan's Office of Children's Ombudsman was created in January 1995 by the legislature36 as a means of monitoring and ensuring compliance with relevant statutes, rules, and policies pertaining to children's protective services, the children's justice system, and the placement, supervision, and treatment of children in foster care and adoptive homes. It may conduct formal investigations, hold hearings, and request that people appear to give testimony and produce evidence.37
The office oversees and recommends improvements in children's programs of all State departments, including social services, mental health, and public health and education.38 The ombudsman is empowered to file petitions in court on behalf of children. In its first 8 months, the office opened 255 cases, closing 86 percent of them; 51.3 percent involved protective services, 8 percent foster care, 8.8 percent adoption services, and 32.1 percent a combination of those or other concerns.39
The ombudsman is appointed by the Governor, but acts independently of the Department of Management and Budget.40 The office makes recommendations to the Governor and legislature, which appropriated an $800,000 budget for 1995.41 At the end of its first year, it had 8 investigators and had handled more than 400 complaints, mostly concerning Department of Social Services protective services.42
MINNESOTA (St. Paul)
Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Mental Retardation
Minnesota has two ombudsman's offices whose responsibilities have an impact on children:43 the Office of Ombudsperson for Families and the Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Mental Retardation. The Ombudsman Roundtable, which formed in 1994 to allow the State's eight ombudsman offices to share expertise, prevents duplication of services.
The Office of Ombudsperson for Families, an independent State agency, was created by the legislature44 in 1991 to ensure that children of color and their families are guaranteed fair treatment by child protection agencies. The high rate of removal of children of color from their families was a condition that led to the office's creation.45
The office monitors agency compliance with all laws governing child protection and placement as they affect children of color. It ensures that court officials, public policymakers, and service providers are trained in cultural diversity; that experts from the appropriate community of color are available as court advocates and are consulted in placement decisions involving children of color; and that guardians ad litem and other individuals from communities of color are recruited, trained, and employed in court proceedings to advocate on behalf of children of color.46
Four ombudsmen are appointed, one each by the councils on Indian Affairs, Spanish-Speaking Affairs, Black Minnesotans, and Asian-Pacific Minnesotans.47 The Office of Ombudsman is equipped to receive complaints from any source concerning an action of an agency, facility, or program. Upon investigation and determination that a complaint has merit, the ombudsman may make recommendations to the agency and may send findings and conclusions to the Governor. The office also submits an annual report to the Governor.48
The Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Mental Retardation, established in 1987,49 is also an independent State agency that receives and investigates complaints involving actions of agencies, facilities, or programs. It provides advocacy and mediation on behalf of individual clients, conducts death and serious injury reviews, and makes recommendations to elected officials, government agencies, and service providers for improvement of mental disabilities service delivery.50 The office also submits annual reports to the Governor.51
Although the office reported that children are a small percentage of those it serves, it identified the need to develop a child's specialist position that can devote exclusive time to needs of children with emotional disturbance as a top priority in 1995.52 The ombudsman must receive reports of abuse and neglect leading to deaths of children placed in foster care or government facilities. The ombudsman also serves on a task force regarding residential and inpatient treatment services for children.53
The ombudsman, appointed by the Governor, has regional advocates throughout the State and a 15-member advisory board.54
NEW MEXICO (Santa Fe)
Client Relation Liaison
The Client Relation Office is a division of the Department of Children, Youth, and Family and does not operate independently. It does review child fatalities, and about 25 percent of those served by the office are children. It has just one employee who is responsible for tracking the validity of complaints and mediating between department fieldworkers and clients. There is no separate budget for the office, and its caseload has increased over the past 2 years. It was created by an administrative directive/executive order and is considered well known and accessible to the public.
OKLAHOMA (Oklahoma City)
Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth
The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth (OCCY) was established by the legislature on May 28, 1982,55 to develop and improve Oklahoma's services to children and youth by overseeing public and private children's services, facilitating coordination among public and private agencies, and funding model projects for effective services to children and youth. The commission has a statutory mandate to monitor public and private placement facilities for children. In addition, it has access to all children in those facilities as well as to all records. The commission can also convene public hearings and issue subpoenas. The majority of its work involves investigating allegations of misfeasance and malfeasance against the child welfare agency in its handling of child abuse cases.56
The commission oversees juvenile justice and delinquency programs, early childhood intervention programs, services for children with disabilities, mental health services for youth, the Child Death Review Board, and court-appointed special advocates. The office does not have the authority to litigate on behalf of children.57
The 16-member commission58 meets at least quarterly to consider proposals, approve agency budgets, hear staff reports, make appointments to councils and committees, and submit recommendations to the Governor, legislature, judicial system, and State agencies.59
The commission also issues public reports that include recommendations for system improvement and recommendations for correction of multiagency systems breakdowns. The reports also include requests for prosecution, when appropriate.60
SOUTH CAROLINA (Columbia)
Office of the Governor
The Foster Care Review Board was established in 1974 by the legislature61 as a division of the Governor's office. The Division of Foster Care Review consists of 21 staff members serving on 35 review boards across the State. Twice annually, the agency conducts reviews regarding approximately 5,000 children in foster care, statistically evaluates foster care in South Carolina, and makes recommendations to the General Assembly and childcare facilities.62
The Governor's Office of Children's Affairs, part of the Governor's Office Division of Ombudsman and Citizen Services, has three units: the Children's Case Resolution System (CCRS), the Investigative Unit, and Ombudsman and Citizen Services.63
CCRS, established in 1986,64 reviews cases of children whose emotional, physical, and educational needs are not being met by the State's service delivery system. It facilitates interagency cooperation, assists in developing and implementing treatment plans, resolves disputes among State agencies with regard to delivery of services to children, and recommends improvements. It submits an annual report and other reports as necessary to the Governor and the Joint Legislative Committee on Children.65
The Investigative Unit is mandated to investigate abuse and neglect allegations involving children in public or private health facilities, agencies licensed by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, or facilities operated by the Department of Mental Health.66 The Office of Children's Affairs must initiate an investigation within 24 hours of a complaint and resolve it within 60 days.
The Office of Children's Affairs also provides ombudsman services on behalf of families with children and on behalf of institutionalized children. It promotes and coordinates cooperation among State agencies serving special needs children and advocates for increased availability of children's services.67
Protective and Regulatory Services
The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (PRS) Ombudsman Office was established in 1993 by administrative and legislative initiative.68 PRS is charged with protecting children and elderly or disabled adults; licensing residential childcare facilities, group daycare homes, daycare centers, and child-placing agencies; and registering family homes. The agency's board of directors and executive director created an ombudsman office to provide oversight and review of abuse and neglect investigations involving PRS services and to compile statistical data and prepare reports regarding investigations in facilities operated by State agencies.69
The ombudsman is a State-funded office with an annual operating budget of $385,487. The staff consists of a director, three associates, two consultants, and a receptionist. The agency is required to submit written reports to the State and elected officials. In the past 2 years, while the office's caseload increased, staff and budget decreased.
The office investigates child fatalities only in special circumstances70 and monitors only those placement facilities that have had complaints filed against them. Approximately 75 percent of those served are children (200,000+ annually). Inquiries and complaints come from professionals, caretakers, concerned adults, and children themselves. In its first 2 years, the agency responded to 2,803 inquiries involving Child Protective Services, Child Care Licensing, and Adult Protective Services.71
With the intention of becoming more accessible to the public, the office recently installed a 24-hour 800 number and is developing a handbook. Protective and Regulatory Services staff frequently make recommendations to the State legislature for alternative action, legislation, and policy changes.
The agencies in this section perform some of the important functions of a children's ombudsman office: They conduct child fatality reviews and investigate abuse complaints. Multidisciplinary investigations of child deaths involving teams of medical, law enforcement, and childcare experts can be a catalyst for changes in policy, procedure, and law that have a direct effect on many children in State care. These are just a sample of the State and local agencies that exist throughout the United States.72
Arizona Child Fatality Review Team
The Arizona Child Fatality Review Team was established in 1992 by a legislative act.73 The team works in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Health Services to assist in the development of local child fatality review teams; to develop protocols for fatality investigations; to educate the public on incidence, causes, and prevention of child deaths; and to develop a child fatality data collection system.74 The members of the team represent a wide range of interests and organizations, including, but not limited to, the Attorney General's Office, the Governor's Office for Children, the Navajo Nation, and a child advocate not employed by the State. The team held its first meeting in December 1993 and continues to meet bimonthly.
Focusing on public health aspects of child fatalities, the team endeavors to reduce preventable child fatalities through interdisciplinary training; community-based prevention education; and systematic, multidisciplinary, multiagency, and multimodality review of child fatalities in the State. A State data system showed that 350 cases have been reviewed since June 1994.75 The team submits an annual report to the Governor and legislature76 and makes recommendations for legislation and public policy.
The team's funding is derived from a surcharge on certified copies of death certificates.77 The budget for the 1993-94 fiscal year was $100,000.
Arizona has been selected by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and the Los Angeles County Council on Child Abuse and Neglect as a pilot site for development of a national model for training State and local fatality teams.
MISSOURI (Jefferson City)
The State Technical Assistance Team
The State Technical Assistance Team (STAT) works in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Social Services. The team was created when House Bill 185 was passed in 1991 and signed into law by Governor John Ashcroft to establish a statewide, county-based system of child fatality review panels. The Department of Social Services and STAT were given primary responsibility for implementing the legislation,78 which requires that Missouri have 115 county-based multidisciplinary Child Fatality Review Programs (CFRP) to examine the deaths of children up to age 17. CFRP panels consist of local community professionals who attempt to identify the cause and circumstances of child deaths. Regional coordinators offer oversight and technical assistance. An appointed State panel provides further oversight and makes recommendations for change and refinement.79
Findings of the panels can be used to determine trends, target prevention strategies, identify family and community needs, or, when appropriate, support criminal justice intervention. Reviews are not open to the public, and specific case details are not divulged.
STAT assists the regions and panels with expert training and investigative assistance. Recognizing the importance of multidisciplinary interaction in dealing with dysfunctional families, child abuse, and neglect, the team acts as an intermediary to bring agencies that have dual roles and responsibilities together to address problem issues. It collects information and data to identify patterns and risks to children and makes CFRP-related presentations to professional and civic organizations. It also develops teams to investigate the sexual abuse of children80 and is a resource (via an 800 number, pagers, and oncall investigators) for referral, technical, and informational support on children's concerns.81
The offices in this section strive to strengthen and enhance public awareness of agencies working with children through public information campaigns. Advocacy efforts of these offices bring problems to public attention in order to promote policy changes, legislative initiatives, and enhanced resources for children. This is another very important function of an ombudsman office for children, who are often voiceless victims in child welfare systems across the country. The following agencies responded to the Child Advocate Office's request for information and are only a sample of these types of offices that exist throughout the United States.
Children's Action Alliance
The Children's Action Alliance (CAA), a private, nonprofit organization, was founded in 1988 by concerned business and community leaders. To build support for public and private investments in successful policies and programs, CAA strives to focus attention on children's issues through research, publications, media campaigns, public education, and advocacy. Its projects include the Arizona Children's Campaign, which brings together citizens and civic leaders to impact public policy and State fiscal priorities through public information and development of legislation. CAA publishes an annual report, The State of Arizona's Children,82 and Arizona Kids Count, which contains data on health, social, educational, and economic problems,83 and a compilation of child welfare questions and a platform for children to inform candidates for public office.84 The Alliance was a prime supporter of Arizona's "Success by 6" legislation, intended to ensure that all children were ready for school by the age of 6, which created controversy statewide in 1994.85
Child Welfare Institute
The Child Welfare Institute, founded in 1984, is a private, nonprofit organization that provides training and consultation services to more than 35 States, the District of Columbia, and several foreign governments. The organization's mission is to enhance the ability of child welfare agencies to protect children, preserve families, build families through adoption, and prepare youth for adult life. The institute offers assistance with agency assessment, planning, staff training, and implementation of policy and procedure changes. Its program models include Partnerships in Parenting, which assists agencies in delivering their services in partnership with parents.86
The Michigan Association of Children's Alliances
The Michigan Association of Children's Alliances (MACA) was formed in 1957. It is a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation whose membership includes private and public agencies (64 in 1995) and individuals.87 Its mission is to improve services to children and their families to ensure that each child has access to the resources he or she needs to promote physical, emotional, and intellectual growth and development. MACA also focuses on public education and advocacy, along with education and training for foster parents and professionals who work for or with children.
This report attempts to provide a sampling of advocacy agencies in the United States, both governmental and private, that monitor the rights of children. Most States contacted have clearly recognized the need for independent oversight of child welfare agencies to ensure the protection of children in State care. The role of an ombudsman office is to provide public accountability and independent monitoring of State departments entrusted with the care of children and youth. Legislative initiatives in many States have resulted in the creation of State-funded ombudsman offices for children. Most of these State agencies provide monitoring and oversight of child placement facilities, institutional abuse complaints, investigations of child fatalities, public education, advocacy, and troubleshooting of individual complaints and concerns. Some of these agencies are much broader in scope, encompassing, for instance, all people with disabilities or involving governmental institutions that may impact children and their families. In addition to public ombudsman offices, there are many nonprofit organizations that receive State subsidies to provide advocacy for children.
State public policy changes and reform of child welfare systems can only be accomplished through a concerted effort of the citizenry. It is hoped that more States will examine ways to improve their advocacy networks on behalf of victimized children and that this report will be a catalyst for the creation of advocacy offices in every State in the country.
*Presented by Laureen D'Ambra, Esq., Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate at the American Bar Association's 8th National Conference on Children and the Law: "Achieving Justice in Child-Related Conflicts," Crystal City, VA, June 5, 1996.