RD81 - Establishment of an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman
At its May 17, 2006 meeting, the Commission on Youth approved the study of the establishment of an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman.
The study directly relates to a 2006 General Assembly legislative proposal, Senate Bill (SB)208, which proposed to create an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman within the legislative branch of state government. On January 10, 2006, SB 208 was referred to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology. On January 25, this Committee reviewed the bill and heard testimonies. Committee members expressed concerns about the bill, particularly with the administration of child protection and child welfare laws. Committee members unanimously agreed that it would be appropriate to have the impact of the bill studied by the Commission on Youth. Subsequently, the Committee sent a letter requesting the Commission on Youth to study the impact of the bill.
The Commission on Youth directed staff to study the impact of SB 208 in three areas:
• Evaluate the need for the establishment of an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman;
• Identify the appropriate administrative structure of an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman; and
• Determine the cost to establish an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman.
As proposed in SB 208, the mission of the Office of Children's Services Ombudsman in Virginia would be to: (1) protect children and parents from harmful agency action or inaction;(2) investigate the acts of state and local administrative agencies adversely affecting children;(3) recommend appropriate changes toward the goals of safeguarding the rights of children and parents; and (4) promote higher standards of competency, efficiency and justice in the administration of the child protection and child welfare laws, juvenile justice services and education of children. SB 208 also set forth requirements for receiving complaints.
During the 2006 study year, Commission staff was guided by the following working definition of an ombudsman:
An ombudsman is an official who receives and investigates complaints on behalf of private citizens. These complaints are usually against a particular act of government or government delivery service. Such services could include education, child welfare system, criminal justice and services to the elderly. An ombudsman serves as a neutral party with the goal of obtaining an impartial solution. Ombudsman services can differ depending on (1) the specialty of the service delivery system, (2) governing authority and (3) jurisdiction. Although services vary, most ombudsman services typically share four main principles: independence, impartiality, confidentiality and credible review process.
Commission staff researched numerous legislative and executive studies related to children's services, child-serving agencies in Virginia and ombudsman services in other states. In addition, the Commission convened an Advisory Group consisting of representatives from executive branch agencies, the judicial system, advocacy organizations, private citizens and legislative members. The Advisory Group met three times in the course of the 2006 study year (July 13, August 9 and September 25). The Commission held two public hearings on this study (July 27 in Norfolk and August 24 in Roanoke) and heard public comment at its October 4 meeting in Richmond.
At the November 28 meeting, the Commission on Youth unanimously approved the following recommendation:
Continue to study the establishment of an Office of Children's Services Ombudsman. Findings and recommendations from this study shall be presented to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2008 General Assembly Session.