#6: Incentivizing Independent Ombuds Offices
The Imprint is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program, a group of 11 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.
The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C.
Today we highlight the recommendation of Laila-Rose Hudson, a law student at The Ohio State University.
Congress should establish a fund under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) that would incentivize states to establish ombuds offices specifically for foster youth, with a requirement that the money only go to offices that are independent of the state or county child welfare system. Further, it should require the executive branch to add questions about maltreatment in foster care to federal data collection, and require states to complete annual surveys of youth in their care about their experience.
The official federal reporting on abuse and neglect in foster care shows that in 2019, .4% of youth in the system experienced one or the other, or both. Hudson contends that this is impossibly low given some of the research on what people say about their experience in foster care; she cites two studies where about one-third of youth report having been maltreated in the system.
Thus states need to offer youth a more direct line to an independent advocate for their interests, she writes, someone whose judgment will not be clouded by doubts about the veracity of the reports, or the pressure to maintain available foster homes. And the federal government, Hudson writes, must get more curious in their own research about how frequently youth report abuse and neglect while in the care of states and counties.
In Their Own Words
“There was no official mechanism for me to report outside of my social workers, who were unreceptive. … I am only one of many whose experience fell between the cracks of the current reporting systems.”
The Imprint’s Take
A recent investigative look at Texas, reported by Roxanna Asgarian and published by The Imprint, backs up what Hudson contends here: It is just less likely that a foster youth’s claims of abuse and neglect will be taken seriously than those of kids in their own home. Reporting out of Florida by USA Today reporters has shown the same thing.
Will the proliferation of independent ombuds offices and more data collection be a panacea for this double standard? Surely not, but it is a start. We would only add that these offices can only be effective to the extent that foster youth know about them, so it seems critical that a “know your rights” element comes with this incentivized federal plan.