Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Legacy of Difference-Making

While preparing for a presentation this morning, I am reminded of the ongoing legacy of Ohio foster care youth and alumni positively impacting federal and state legislation, supported by our beloved allies.

#LetsKeepPushingForwardTogether











Thursday, October 14, 2021

Youth Ombudsman Coalition

The Youth Ombudsman Coalition was initiated by the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board, which is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care that exists to be the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out of home care.

Members of this growing coalition include: ACTION Ohio, Adoption Network Cleveland, Athens CASA/GAL Program, Better Together Toledo, the Children’s Defense Fund, Columbus State Scholar Network, Community of Hope, Disability Rights Ohio, El’lesun, the Fostering Achievement Network, iFoster Inc, Junior League of Columbus, the Miresa Arts Foundation, the National Center for Housing & Child Welfare, the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, the Ohana Project and Think of Us.

Learn more at: https://fosteractionohio.org/advocacy-toolkit/    




Monday, October 11, 2021

Second Zoom Meeting with Representative Jarrells

 

The OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio held a Zoom meeting with Representative Jarrells on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

We deeply appreciated Representative Jarrells' offer to circle back with Representative Manchester this week regarding attached strike-through document that we recently sent her regarding HB 4, which is currently being reviewed by the Senate Judicial Committee, and will likely go next to the Senate Finance Committee.

The wording of our message to Representative Manchester was as follows:

After reviewing with participants of the Youth Ombudsman Coalition and the OHIO YAB, we wanted to make additional suggestions to the amendment drafted by LSC. We hope that the attached redlined version of the amendment helps to clarify our positions and moves us towards an amendment that can be supported by the OHIO YAB and the coalition that has been working towards a truly independent and effective ombudsman’s office.

Our redlined version of the amendment does two important  things:

  • Clearly makes the youth ombudsman a separate appointed role.  This is the primary request and this change would accomplish the main intent.

  • Clarifies that the OHIO YAB will have input in the selection of the Youth Ombudsman. This is also a primary request and goes hand-in-hand with the first request.

The following are suggestions that build off of some of the changes included in the LSC prepared amendment. These amendments continue to build on the intent of our original proposal to Representative Manchester's office.

  • Change the name from Children Services to "Youth and Family" with the "Family Ombudsman" as adult-serving and the "Youth Ombudsman" as youth-serving. 

  • Clarify that the two ombudsmen will be housed in the same office at JFS, but will not report to the Director of JFS and will not be subject to budget reductions

  • Add the OHIO YAB to the list of people who will receive and evaluate the annual report.

  • Create an appropriation line item and clarify that the Youth Ombudsman shall receive no less than 50% of the budget.

Monday, September 20, 2021

This morning's Zoom with Representative Dontavius L. Jarrells was AWESOME. I think we've found our legislative champion to establish a Youth Ombudsman Office that will safeguard and protect Ohio youth. We have serious faces in the photo below because child and teen safety is no joke. But my heart was deeply encouraged by today's call.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

 

#StigmaBusters

Something I didn't expect after the car accident was to experience short-term PTSD. Apparently, it's not uncommon, especially for individuals with a history of trauma and abuse. 

Fortunately, I have WAY better coping mechanisms than I did when I was younger. I've been able to stay calm on the outside and tell myself: "This is literally just cortisol. I am not in danger." 

I've been drinking water, breathing deeply, and using grounding exercises. Wish younger me had known how to do this stuff, which is why I'm sharing, in case it might be of help to others.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Imprint article about Youth Ombuds Office ~ with quotes from Jaye and Deanna

 


In Quest to Meet Needs of Foster Youth, More States Create Independent Ombuds Offices
Conn, Megan. The Imprint: Youth and Family News, 7/26/21. 

Over two years working at foster care agencies in Columbus, Ohio, it became clear to Jaye Turner just how alone the young people she cared for often were. And when they raised a problem, the professionals in their lives were often dismissive, discouraging them from filing a formal grievance or reporting their treatment — and saying no one would believe them anyway.

As a result, said Turner — a former foster youth herself  — “if something bad happens, that child is not gonna say anything, because they think, ‘I don’t trust that you’ll do what you’re supposed to do.’”

Feeling unsupported, unheard or isolated is distressingly common for foster youth, and all too often there is no reliable person to help with questions or concerns: Why can’t I stay at my school when I move to a new foster home? Do I have to keep taking medication that makes me feel weird? How can I be transferred out of a group home where I’m being mistreated? 

Jaye Turner, a former foster youth, has worked for foster care agencies in Columbus, Ohio.

Caseworkers are often too overloaded to listen or too inexperienced to problem-solve, and officials impossible to reach. 

To get their basic needs met, foster youth and their advocates across the country are pushing for the creation of offices with the sole purpose of listening to and addressing their needs — from securing visitation with their birth parents and siblings to figuring out how to pay for college.

Currently, just 22 states have an independent statewide office to respond to concerns from those living in foster care or serving such children. These offices also identify systemic problems, produce regular, publicly available reports on complaints and recommend solutions, such as increased oversight of residential facilities, or better education about a state’s foster care bill of rights. 

Some states, including Colorado and California, have had such offices for a decade or two. Others have created these watchdog roles only recently. Ohio, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., are currently defining how their new offices will operate. And in Vermont, legislators are considering a bill that would create an office to advocate for youth in foster care.

This year, New York lawmakers considered a bill to create an independent state office to address concerns about foster care and report on larger trends, but the measure failed to advance.

In Ohio, where Turner grew up, youth advocates spent four years fighting to create an office to listen to and advocate for young people in need of safe homes. Last year, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) approved $1 million for the initiative, and the state Legislature is now deciding how it will operate. 

For many Ohio advocates, the desperate need to designate someone for foster youth to call when they are in need became all too apparent in April, when Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black teen, was shot and killed by a white Columbus police officer outside her foster home after an altercation with several older teens who were former residents of the home.

 Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, was a foster youth who was killed by police in April.


According to relatives and news accounts, the circumstances surrounding the lives of Ma’Khia and her siblings cried out for better oversight well before she was gunned down. The children’s grandmother had begged child welfare officials to give her more time to find housing so she could keep the family together, but they were removed nonetheless, two sisters ending up in a chaotic foster home where police were frequently called.

Four days after Ma’Khia’s April 30 funeral, former foster youth Deanna Jones testified in the Ohio statehouse that help from a foster care expert could have saved the girl’s life. Jones said in her own case, without a rescue from a sympathetic case worker, her trajectory might have been far worse.

Lawmakers are pushing for an investigation into Ma'Khia Bryant's life in foster care leading up to the police shooting that killed her.

“My life could have ended if I had not had an advocate,” she told lawmakers. “There were times when my rights and concerns were being violated, but I had someone to go to bat for me. And we don’t have that now.”

Such statewide offices are often known as a foster care ombudsman or ombudsperson — derived from the Swedish word for “representative” — or sometimes as a child advocate. Ombuds offices are designed, fundamentally, to provide accountability in the child welfare system — typically tight-lipped, opaque bureaucracies that too often fail to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable children and families they are charged with protecting.

When problems arise, “you’ve got to have some entity that’s responsible for knowing — and then responding when there’s a violation or a potential violation,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, a former foster youth and executive director of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center. 

Foster care ombuds offices typically take calls from children, foster parents and biological relatives, and, in some states, from any member of the public. Most have hotlines that receive calls during business hours; in Washington state, people are directed to fill out an online form. New Hampshire is among the few state offices that receive walk-ins. 

The role and scope of the foster care ombuds varies across states, including the branch of government where it is located and what information it can access. 

Mary Christine Reed, a lawyer who directs the nonprofit legal advocacy group Texas Foster Youth Justice Project, said her state’s office does regular and effective outreach to young people, spreading the word through summer conferences as well as life skills classes that all 16- and 17-year-old foster youth must take. 

Recently, she got a call from a north Texas teen whose foster parents were pushing him to attend church and read the Bible against his wishes. Frustrated and uncomfortable in the only home available to him, the boy wanted someone to help him negotiate the situation.

Reed said she referred him to the ombudsperson, who listened to his concerns and arranged a meeting with the state commissioner of children’s services, the general counsel and other leaders of the state child welfare agency. He was inspired by sitting around a table with the people who decided where to send kids like him who needed a safe home, and ultimately moved to an independent living program.  

“Our client was left feeling that he had made a difference,” Reed said, “and that there could be some change for other youth.”

To understand the key attributes of an effective ombuds office, The Imprint spoke with three current or former directors of state ombuds offices as well as six leaders of state and national organizations that serve foster youth. 

All agreed on four critical elements for an independent watchdog:

  • Independence from the state child welfare agency
  • Tracking and reporting systemic issues
  • Access to case information and data
  • Direct outreach to youth

In 18 states, the ombuds offices are located outside of the state child welfare agency, often within the offices of a governor or inspector general, according to research by Moira O’Neill, director of the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate. While most of those offices focus specifically on children’s issues, five oversee all government agencies. 

Rochelle Trochtenberg, California’s former Foster Care Ombudsperson.

In three states — California, Texas and Utah — the offices operate autonomously, but within the state child welfare agency. That model is not ideal, said California’s former ombudsperson Rochelle Trochtenberg. Before her recent departure after a five-year tenure, Trochtenberg — a rare ombuds who is herself a former foster youth — had advocated to move her office outside of the state Department of Social Services. The department is still seeking her replacement.

Experts interviewed for this article all agreed these watchdog agencies must go beyond providing assistance in individual cases and must produce regular reports on broader trends, along with recommended changes. 

Such reports can serve as a guide for needed laws and policies, they said, but their recommendations are not binding, and their impact hinges on the ombuds office’s ability to persuade agency leaders and state lawmakers to take action. Absent pressure placed on policymakers through media exposure, sometimes the reports go unheeded.

Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman Stephanie Villafuerte

In Colorado in 2017, for example, the state shut down a foster care facility where residents had for years reported abuse by staff. In 2019, the ombudsman’s office issued a report which found that child safety concerns were routinely ignored by “an ill-defined system that fails to ensure the safety and well-being of youth inside these facilities.” It also recommended specific changes to policy and practice to the Colorado Department of Human Services.

But two years later, the state ombudsman, Stephanie Villafuerte, said the agency has not implemented her recommendations satisfactorily — and that it only began the conversation about how to address them after allegations against two other youth residential facilities were highlighted by media reports this year.

“It took ongoing problems in youth facilities before acting on them,” Villafuerte said. “We’re clear on what the problem is, and frankly, we’ve already identified the solutions.” 

Effective ombuds offices also need easy access to internal data collected by state and local child welfare agencies, the directors and advocates said. But according to O’Neill’s research, watchdog agencies in just 12 of 22 states have subpoena power — the ability to petition a court to order an agency to release information. 

The ability to compel an agency to turn over information can be a powerful oversight tool, Trochtenberg said — although in practice, ombudspeople often end up relying on the power of persuasion.

“If I had to go through the process of getting a subpoena issued and waiting for these records to come back to me, that delays the process of justice, and it also delays our ability to offer more timely and sound policy recommendations,” Trochtenberg said. “I tried to get around that by further clarifying what I have the right to access and how and when.”

Finally, the services of many foster care ombuds offices reflect the preferences of adults, rather than youth, both advocates and agency directors said. Most cannot be reached on evenings and weekends, and are accessible only by phone call, email or an online form. Several advocates suggested youth would prefer to communicate by text or live chat.

“We do hear from youth, but we’re probably barely scratching the surface right now,” said Villafuerte in Colorado. Her office recently added a “Services for Youth” button on its home page, which leads to a new webpage that explains the ways in which it can assist them. 

Still, she said more direct outreach is needed to reach youth where they are at and advise them how her office can help.

“A lot of our youth in care don't have access to laptops and computers,” Villafuerte said, “and they don't know what an ombudsman is because that word is just foreign to most kids, and really to most adults.”

Ombuds' ability to improve child welfare systems hinges on their success in earning the trust of the youth they aim to serve, said Christine James-Brown, president of the Child Welfare League of America.

“These offices have to work in the right way because they can't be another source of disappointment for people,” James-Brown said. “If we’re going to promote something like this, they can’t be just another window dressing.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

OHIO YAB Presentation for Governor DeWine

 Governor DeWine said, of the OHIO YAB's presentation today: 

1.) That the youth were articulate and professional

2.) That the points they made and their stories were compelling

3.) That he wants to take some time to evaluate and talk with his team re: separating out Youth Ombuds Office from the Children Services one

4.) That: "We don't write the laws, but we can weigh in"

5.) That we should seek to get the General Assembly to understand our point of view








Thursday, July 15, 2021

If you know or if you are child or teen who is experiencing abuse...

If you know or if you are child or teen who is experiencing abuse...

1. When calling child abuse hotlines, multiple calls from multiple people tend to be better heard

2. If there is physical evidence of the abuse, consider showing it to a trusted teacher because they are mandated reporters

3. If the physical abuse is severe or if the abuse is sexual and there is physical evidence of it, go to the ER, because they are also mandated reporters

4. Find out where your local Safe Place is... Here's a link to to find the local Safe Place in your area: https://www.nationalsafeplace.org/find-a-safe-place

5.) For example, in Columbus, a child or teen can go to their local Kroger or library branch, share that they feel unsafe, and transportation will be arranged to get them to Huckleberry House. 

Huck House is a wonderful resource. It comes highly rated by teens themselves. We've visited in personally, had youth tour and spoken with residents to ask about their experiences.

Youth shared that it was a place of comfort, safety, fun, caring and respect, that they can rely on for a meal, a place to sleep, caring adults and transportation to their school during the time when they stay there.  



Friday, June 18, 2021

Monday, June 14, 2021

Excellent Op Ed about the need for a Youth Ombudsman Office

 Opinion: Foster children need a voice and to be heard: Dylan McIntosh

Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 2021.

Dylan McIntosh lived in 23 different homes during the course of his time in foster care. That's why he is pushing to create an ombudsman office to be a voice for children in foster care. (Photo Courtesy of Dylan McIntosh)

Guest columnist Dylan McIntosh spent 10 years in foster care. He “aged out” of the system at 18 years old. Back in January 2020, prior to the pandemic, Dylan shared his foster care experience with Gov. Mike DeWine’s Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council.

Think back to when you were 13 years old. Now, think about a time when someone did you wrong and how you handled it. Did you have a trusted adult’s attention to whom you could bring your problem? 

If you did, I bet they were able to listen and help you get through it.

Now, imagine that you didn’t live with your family; that you had to change where you lived, with whom you lived and which school you attended -- often.

Also, take away the trusted adult who could help you solve your problems and process your concerns when something went awry.

That is reality in the life of a child in foster care – ever-changing and inconsistent.

I know that reality all too well. In the course of my time in foster care, I lived in 23 different homes. I’ve been able to see the faults and cracks in the well-intentioned system that is meant to help, but oftentimes is under-resourced and under-staffed.

Unfortunately, due to issues with the child welfare system -- ranging from overwhelmed caseworkers to extended wait times on crisis lines and a lack of funding, -- children in foster care who have serious problems often have nowhere to turn, which can lead to tragic results.

We owe more to the most vulnerable.

There is a powerful solution that could help kids in foster care, if done properly. The solution is a Youth Ombudsman Office, serving youth throughout the entire the state of Ohio. It would be an independent office tasked with listening to the voices of vulnerable children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves often outside of their biological family.

What would a Youth Ombudsman’s Office do? It would serve youth experiencing abuse and neglect in a variety of settings (foster care, kinship care, respite care and institutional/residential care).

To avoid a conflict of interest, it should be independent from the Department of Job and Family Services. It needs to be youth-specific and separate from agencies serving adult caregivers. It should also possess meaningful oversight of child welfare agencies, in order to assure that issues are solved, rather than lost in the red tape.

Most importantly, it should be designed by those who have experienced the foster care system and it should be created to be easily accessible. It is incredibly important to give youth in foster care a voice and a space to be heard that is separate from the way that foster parents submit their own concerns.

Advocates for foster youth believe there should be “nothing about us, without us” in the creation of solutions impacting children in care. A Youth Ombudsman Office should be no different.

As someone who did not have the benefit of an advocate when I was bounced around in the foster care system, I implore the General Assembly to pass and Gov. Mike DeWine to sign House Bill 110 to create and fully fund a Youth Ombudsman Office to serve the foster youth in our state so that they may thrive and live better than those who came before them.

It may be too late for those of us who have already aged out of foster care, but it’s not too late for those in care now and those who may be in the future.

#TrueStory

 


Friday, June 11, 2021



A common experience that many of us experience as former foster youth is feeling alone.

We often feel alone at the very moments in our lives when we most need other people to help us. When our safety is threatened. When we are transitioning from one living situation to another. When an overwhelming situation comes up and we aren't sure how to handle it. 

Thankfully, we as foster care alumni can network with one another and with our trusted allies. Tears literally came to my eyes this week after an encouraging update that reminded me that, in our efforts, we are NOT alone. #Grateful





Thursday, June 10, 2021

Friday, June 04, 2021

#YouthOmbudsOffice

Reasons why we will continue to advocate for a Youth Ombudsman Office in the state of Ohio...








Monday, May 31, 2021

Lisa Dickson named as 2021 REFCA Champion

Lisa Dickson serves as co-facilitator of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB) and Communications Chair for Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now (ACTION) Ohio. She is the lead organizer of Ohio’s annual regional Thanksgiving Together celebrations for foster care teens and alumni. These positions are in a volunteer capacity, in addition to her full-time job.

Lisa emancipated early from foster care and entered college at age 16. Within a year, she experienced homelessness. During her time in college and graduate school, she visited former placements from her time in care, including group homes and an emergency shelter, to support fellow foster youth.

Beginning in 2006, Lisa has listened to the voices of young people in and from foster care in the state of Ohio, and empowered them to design proactive policy solutions, including the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act. She was a founding member and former chair of Ohio Reach, a statewide initiative to support post-secondary success for foster youth. She is deeply proud of the accomplishments of Ohio foster care youth and alumni, and grateful for allies and partners.






Monday, May 24, 2021

First time seeing Carly and the kiddos since February 2020

 

Link to individual photos.

By time we left Pittsburgh, Nathan and I were covered in princess and Pokémon stickers and tattoos, thanks to the loving ministrations of our beloved grandchildren.  

Six-year-old Edward had decided that, in his words: “My new name is Nana Lisa Grandpa Nathan Buck.” 

Edward and I made two books together; this was his idea. He brought in paper, folded it in half and stapled the fold.  At his direction, Edward and I illustrated each page with the habitat of his Pokémon stickers (land, water, sky) and then took turns carefully placing 3 or 4 Pokémon stickers on each page. 

We included illustrations of some of their powers (freeze rays, fire, Zzzzz for putting others to sleep). Edward then dictated, and I scribed, some somewhat repetitive dialogue between the characters:

- Character 1: I’m gonna get you.  
- Character 2: Aghhhhhhhhhh!

- Character 1: I’m gonna freeze you.  
- Character 2: Aghhhhhhhhhh!

- Character 1: I’m gonna poison you. 
- Character 2: Aghhhhhhhhhh!

- Character 1: I’m gonna burn you.  
- Character 2: Aghhhhhhhhhh!

Edward had me title both of the books: “Nana Lisa and Edward’s book.”  He had his mom read them multiple times, me read them, Nathan read them and before bedtime, he chose them as his bedtime story.

Four-year-old Fran’s penchant was for princesses. She followed Edward’s example and made a book. Her cute little voice is an adorable result of previous tonsil and adenoid removal. She’s been going to speech therapy to help with pronunciation.

Two-year-old William’s contributions were cuteness, lots of exploratory energy - and maybe a bit of pee.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Youth Ombudsman Office could have saved Ma'Khia Bryant's life

Ma'Khia Bryant death: Former foster-care kids say youth ombudsman in Ohio could make a difference
Ken Gordon, The Columbus Dispatch, May 12, 2021.

Nikki Chinn (left) and Deanna Jones (center) were among those who testified in front of an Ohio Senate committee last week about their experiences in foster care and the need for an independent youth ombudsman office. They were accompanied by Kim Eckhart (right) of the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio.

Deanna Jones stepped to a lectern in the Ohio Statehouse last week and told lawmakers that having a youth ombudsman office might have saved Ma’Khia Bryant’s life.

Jones spoke as one who, like Bryant, had been in foster care and knew from personal experience that having someone who will listen to a foster child’s concerns and take appropriate action can make all the difference.

Bryant, 16, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer April 20 outside her Far East Side foster home. Bryant had a knife in her hand and had swung it at one woman and was threatening another when she was killed.

Exact circumstances of what led up to the incident remain unclear.

But Jones emphasized reports that Bryant and other foster children at the home appeared to be having trouble with several former foster children who had lived there, and that Bryant’s younger sister had called police in March and requested that she be removed from the home.

“I understand there are things that are debatable and that (Bryant) had a knife and that’s all some people saw,” said Jones, 39, “but honestly, I feel Ma’Khia was in survival mode, and that’s why I identified with her.”

Jones said during her rocky tenure in foster care in the 1980s and 1990s, she benefited from a sympathetic caseworker who listened to her complaints and removed her from several bad homes.

“I saw how my life could have ended if I had not had an advocate,” Jones said. “There were times when my rights and concerns were being violated, but I had someone to go to bat for me, and we don’t have that now.”

And that’s why Jones and several other former foster kids testified in front of an Ohio Senate committee last week in favor of ensuring that a newly created Youth Ombudsman Office is adequately funded and also fully independent of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees the foster-care system.

Deanna Jones, of the East Side, testified last week in front of an Ohio Senate committee about her experience in foster care and the importance of establishing a youth ombudsman office that is independent of the state agency that oversees Ohio's Children Services' system.

The issue is emotional to former foster kids who viewed Bryant’s death as avoidable.

“To those of us from foster care, anyone who was in foster care is our brother and sister, so losing one of our sisters is heartbreaking to us,” said Nikki Chinn, 30, a Clintonville resident who said she endured abuse and neglect in the foster-care system. “There are so many different opinions people have of the situation, but the fact of the matter is that a young girl in the foster system died, and there was no reason she should have died."

Chinn was in and out of foster care from a very young age until, at age 14, her biological parents lost all parental rights, then she remained in foster care until she aged out at 18.

In one home, Chinn said, she and four other “foster sisters” were forced to share one bedroom with a bunk bed and a mattress. They took turns sharing the beds and sleeping on the floor. Meanwhile, they were not allowed to eat without permission, she said, and there were padlocks on the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator.

Chinn said they repeatedly complained to caseworkers, but, “it got turned around on us. The foster mother was able to convince the caseworker that it was a punishment for something we did wrong."

Kim Eckhart is the Kids COUNT project manager for the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, a nonprofit organization focused on lifting kids out of poverty and protecting them from abuse and neglect.

She accompanied the former foster kids who testified last week.

“A lot of youth are blamed for being in foster care because of their behaviors, like they are responsible for the situation they are in,” she said. “They want to have someone who can really hear them from an unbiased perspective, which I hope is that this youth ombudsman office will be.”

One key state official said that will be the case. Kristi Burre is director of Children’s Initiatives for Gov. Mike DeWine and previously led DeWine’s Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, which last year included the creation of a youth ombudsman office among its 37 recommendations.

DeWine has been a strong advocate of children's services in general. He convinced lawmakers to increase Children Services' funding by $220 million in the current (2020-21) budget, and asked for another large increase ($78 million in 2022 alone) in the budget being debated now.

In February, he called for a "more compassionate and more child-centered" foster care and adoption system. "Our goal is to change the children's services system in the state of Ohio, and change it and get it right," he said.

The youth ombudsman office has a proposed budget of $1 million ($500,000 annually) for the state's next two-year budget (2022-23). That amount is a “placeholder” Burre said, and could change as lawmakers debate the budget.

“There is absolutely a sense of urgency (to set up the office),” she said. “It’s one of our top priorities.”

Burre also said she agrees with child-welfare advocates that the office will be “an impartial, neutral entity.”

According to information compiled by ACTION Ohio, a foster-care advocacy group, 21 states have youth ombudsman offices, with a wide range of structures. 

The group cited the systems in Delaware, Georgia and Texas as having best practices, much of that having to do with their independence from the state agencies that oversee foster care. The office in Texas, for example, reports directly to the state's legislature and governor.

Burre said the state's proposal is that the office will be funded by the Department of Job and Family Services.

Nikki Chinn, of Clintonville, talked about 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant's death and her own experiences in foster care as part of testimony before an Ohio Senate committee last week as they debated funding for a youth ombudsman office.

Chinn said if the state keeps the office within that department, “it will create a conflict of interest. You can't be the prosecutor and the defense attorney for the same case. It cannot be housed under JFS. There is no way you could be impartial and be paid by the same people who paid for the foster care placement."

And like Jones, Chinn talked about Ma’Khia Bryant in her testimony to lawmakers as they debate funding for the ombudsman office.

“I used that story,” she said. “I said, `This outcome could have been changed.’ I aged out (of the foster system) in 2008, but my story is still relevant. I wanted to show them (lawmakers) that these stories are still happening today.”

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Testimony before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee

 

Here is a link to testimony shared by Lisa Dickson today before the Senate Finance Committee regarding: 

1. What we are asking for in terms of a Youth Ombudsman Office

2. Why existing resources are not working to address this need

3. Why it must be autonomous and able to operate independently of ODJFS

4. Why it must be dedicated to youth and not combined with an office for caregivers

5. Why the voices of those with “lived experience” in foster care need to be included in its design

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

ABC6 On Your Side: Advocates fight for independent Ombudsman officer to help children in Ohio

"We want this office to be implemented correctly. Not just to say we did something. We want it to be structurally sound where it can actually serve children."

~ Quote from Jermaine Ferguson, which represents the stance of   Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, the OHIO YAB and ACTION Ohio.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Ongoing testimony for Youth Ombuds Office

It was vitally important that Nikki, Deanna and Juliana testified earlier this week and that Jermaine and Kim testified today, and it will be vitally important for all of us to stay engaged in this effort in order to safeguard what youth have asked for, which is:

- A Youth Ombuds Office, separate from any mechanism to serve foster caregivers 

- Able to operate independently and autonomously of ODJFS 

Once again, our advocacy efforts made the news: 

Children Services Ombudsman Office Added To Abuse Reporting Measure

The House on Thursday took a step toward the creation of an ombudsman office for the state's foster care system, although a leading child welfare advocacy group asked lawmakers to go further with the language.

The proposal to create an arbiter of conflicts within the children services system, which has been the subject of biennial budget (HB 110) testimony, was amended into separate legislation on child abuse reporting (HB 4) during its fourth hearing before the House Families Aging & Human Services Committee. The bill remains in committee.

Chair Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Lakeview) said the amendment, adopted without opposition, also expands the pool of qualified home study assessors for the foster care system. It is supported by the DeWine Administration, she said.

However, Jermaine Ferguson, speaking on behalf of the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, ACTION Ohio, and the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, asked the committee "to add more robust language to the amendment…."

He requested that the committee:

  • Establish an independent and autonomous Youth Ombudsman Office outside of the Department of Jobs and Family Services.
  • Define the powers and duties of the office.
  • Explicitly state that the office be dedicated to youth and not serve both youth and caregivers.
  • Mandate that current and former foster youth be involved in the design and operation of the office.

"The Youth Ombudsman office should not be housed in the DJFS because the agency is solely responsible for the state's supervision of the child welfare system. There is at a minimum an appearance of a conflict of interest because the ombudsman, staffing, operations, and the budget are directly influenced by DJFS," he said. "The Youth Ombudsman office should not serve both youth and the caregiver – there must be independent mechanisms that serve youth and the family caregiver to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest."

Chair Manchester said the decision was made to house the office withing ODJFS based on precedent and the focus of state resources. Regarding some of the specifics requested by the witness, she said policymakers did not want to be too descriptive with the language.

The chair also noted that a $1 million appropriation for the office mention by Mr. Ferguson and a subsequent witness had been removed by the House under the assumption that ODJFS could establish the program with existing resources. She added that HB4 does not include an appropriation for that purpose.

Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) and other members questioned why the office should not focus on both youth and caregivers.

Mr. Ferguson said he's not saying caregivers should not be served, just that a separate independent office should be focused on youth.

Responding to a question from Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem), the witness said an ombudsman could initiate an investigation based on trends or when a youth or caseworker flags a problem.

Kim Eckhart, also with the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, raised the same concerns with the amendment's approach by requesting the ombudsman office be independent and focused on youth.

She told Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) her group had not done cost estimates for the program but was asking that its funding be used in specific ways.

Responding to Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland), Ms. Eckhart said of the original funding proposal, "I would say it's an under-estimate," especially of there were two separate offices for youth and caregivers.

The witness opined that it would be feasible to use that funding for an independent office with a separate line item.