Virginia’s foster children and youth now have an official watchdog to protect them.
Gov. Ralph Northam late last month announced the appointment of Eric Reynolds as director of the new Office of Children’s Ombudsman, calling him “the right person” for the job and a “compassionate leader with extensive experience working in our foster care system and with agencies that serve children.”
The ombudsman’s office was created as an independent agency by the state Legislature in 2020 to take in reports and complaints about the treatment of Virginia’s roughly 5,500 foster children and youth. The office has the power to investigate complaints and review actions taken (or not taken) by state and local departments of social services, child placement agencies and child-caring institutions.
Until now, any complaints filed were handled in-house, inevitably raising doubts that complaints were thoroughly investigated and addressed.
Reynolds’ agency will also advocate for legislation and monitor and ensure compliance with laws, rules and policies regarding child protective services and the placement, supervision, treatment and delivery of services to those living in foster care or adoptive homes.
Before accepting his new post, Reynolds was most recently a staff attorney for improvement programs at the state Supreme Court. He also has experience as an assistant attorney general for health, education and social services, as well as legal counsel for the state Department of Social Services’ Office of Children’s Services.
“I am honored to serve in this inaugural role,” Reynolds told the Augusta Free Press. “I was drawn to this position because I know how much of an impact it can make. I look forward to working alongside the Department of Social Services to ensure that the needs of foster care children across Virginia are put first.”
As an attorney, Reynolds has represented both parents and children in child welfare cases and family law. He earned his law degree at the University of Richmond.