Louisiana Requires an Office of Children’s Ombuds
Louisiana lacks an essential tool in its child well-being toolbox: an Office of Children’s Ombudsman.
More than 85% of states provide Ombuds services for children. Louisiana does not. Louisiana is among the four states ranked worst for child well-being, and they have this in common: they do not have an Office of Children’s Ombuds.
Without a Children’s Ombudsman, no objective, independent state official or office listens to the complaints of parents and children about public child-directed services. No state official protects the civil rights of Louisiana’s parents and children related to children’s services. No Office of Ombuds reports its findings to the Legislature about ways to improve services for children.
|Download our new advocacy paper: Louisiana Requires an Office of Children’s Ombuds|
|See the Quick Explainer Infographic: Why Louisiana Requires an Office of Children’s Ombuds|
|Learn what Ombuds for Children Do: Children’s Ombudspersons: Their Work and Responsibilities|
|Read our open letter to the Louisiana Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee regarding Louisiana’s need for an Office of Children’s Ombuds.|
|Read the one page, The Louisiana Legislature is Active on Children’s Bills, but Louisiana Ranks Poorly on Child Well-being. Would an Office of Children’s Ombudsman Help?|
|Interested in legislation? It’s here: Directory of State Legislation Creating Ombudsman Services for Children in the United States.|
|Review a Simple Logic Model for Office of Children’s Ombudsman|
|Read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about a Louisiana Children’s Ombudsman|
All Louisiana child-serving agencies and offices struggle to provide good services. Yet, Louisiana’s children require these public services – created to ensure their well-being – are sound.
Children, parents, family members, and foster caregivers are the first to know when care is lacking. They know before the headlines appear. Unfortunately, unlike most states, Louisiana has no Office of Children’s Ombuds to hear them.
Recent news reports of the conditions and well-being of Louisiana’s children who depend on state agencies for their care and protection are dismaying. With its struggling child services agencies and ranked next-to-last among all the states for child well-being, Louisiana has something in common with the four worst states for children: Louisiana has no Office of Children’s Ombuds.
When Louisiana’s children do not receive good services from state agencies and offices, they nor their parents, kinship caregivers, and foster caregivers have an objective office where they trust their voices are heard and believed. No objective individual or office in Louisiana’s state government is responsible for gathering information about grievances related to children’s services, resolving complaints, and reporting to the public, the Legislature, and the Governor.
To the make a finer point, Louisiana lacks a fundamental key to improve child well-being: an Office of Children’s Ombuds.
As our public systems fail to protect children or even passively allow harm, Louisiana must find a way to gather and hear the complaints, resolve the real grievances, and transparently report on the findings to elected officials and the public.
The accompanying paper, Louisiana Requires an Office of Children’s Ombuds, provides information about Children’s Ombuds for you to consider. We cannot allow our state’s past to be its future.
Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services is preparing to privatize Home Development (aka Foster Care) in the Baton Rouge region. Louisiana’s decision to do this before creating a Foster Care Ombuds or an Office of Child Ombudsman seems premature and risky.
By privatizing foster care in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Thibodaux regions before creating an Office of Children’s Ombuds, Louisiana’s Legislature may push the foster care system further beyond its control without first implementing a mechanism to improve oversight of the privatization effort. Ironically, Louisiana’s chronic lack of objective review helped create the very situation that privatizing seeks to correct.
The word ombuds means “representative” and “defender of citizens.” In the U.S., states use several variations of the word as titles of officials who assist children in receiving what they need from state agencies: child ombuds, child ombudsman, child ombudsperson, or child advocate.
While all states provide Ombuds services for the Elderly, and 86% of states have Ombuds services for children, Louisiana does not provide ombudsman services for children.
Louisiana does not have an Ombuds Office for Children.
Given the dismal condition of Louisiana’s efforts on behalf of children, creating an Office of Child Ombuds (and providing ombuds services for Foster Care) is on the Checklist for Improving Louisiana for Children.
Q: What do the four U.S. states ranked worst for child well-being in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2021 Kids Count Databook lack in common?
A: The four states ranked worst do not have an Office of Child Ombudsman. (Yes, Louisiana is among the last in 2021 with a 32 year average rank of 49th. Creating an Office of Child Ombuds would be a small but significant step for Louisiana’s Legislature to take on behalf of our children.)
Ombuds for Children assist children and their parents or guardians to resolve concerns about their interactions with state agencies. This support is critical when a child’s needs are not being met according to state policy and regulations. (Ombuds also do more, which I will point out below, to keep legislators and the public informed about the state of children’s affairs.)
Federal laws require states to have Ombuds for the Elderly. However, no federal law requires a state to have an Ombuds for Children. Consequently, each state government determines for itself if it wishes to “listen” to children and parents and provide recourse when state services are not up to par. Louisiana, with more than 1,090,000 children (and just as many reasons to listen), has not created an Office of Child Ombuds.
The Roles of Child Ombudsman
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, an Office of Child Ombudsman performs the following functions:
- Child Ombuds handle and investigate complaints from citizens and families related to government services for children and families. This may include child protective services, foster care, adoption and juvenile justice services.
- An Office of Children’s Ombuds provides a government accountability mechanism for legislators and governors. The accountability process includes recommending system-wide improvements, based on collected grievances and findings, to benefit children and families – often in the form of annual reports to the Legislature, Governor and public.
- A Child Ombudsman protects the interests and rights of children and families – both individually and system-wide.
- Child Ombuds may monitor programs, placements, and departments responsible for providing children’s services – which may include inspecting state facilities and institutions.
In addition to these standard roles, specific duties vary by state and purview. For example, in a large state like Texas with multiple Ombudsman, an ombudsman for child welfare services will have different duties than an ombudsman who specializes in juvenile justice. Generally, though, Ombuds for Children may work to promote the rights and interests of children in many ways, including the nine described in “Children’s Ombudspersons: Their Work and Responsibilities“, which is available for download.
What Do Child Ombuds Reports Look Like?
The links to reports related to other states’ ombudsman offices are examples of the value an Office of Child Ombudsman brings to a state.
Texas Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman (FCO) resolved 569 complaints from youth in FY 2021.
Maine, ranked 11 for child well-being, further strengthens its Office of Child Welfare Ombudsman.
State of New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate, Fifth Annual Report, 2021-2022