Texas Passes Legislation Creating Ombudsman to Serve Foster Youth

Texas legislators passed a bill last week to create an ombudsman who will independently address issues foster youth have with the Department of Family and Protective Services.

The ombudsman will work for the Health and Human Services Commission and oversee and review complaints submitted by any of Texas’ 30,000 foster youth.

Katherine Barillas, the Director of Child Welfare Policy at One Voice Texas, said that former foster youth had come to her expressing their issues with the current system.

“They really felt there weren’t enough protections for them in foster care,” Barillas said. “We recognized immediately there needed to be better shape and definition in the office in that it had to be independent.”

Prior to the creation of this ombudsman, the Department of Family and Protective Service ran the office to investigate complaints against itself. Sarah Crockett, the public policy coordinator for Texas Court-Appointed Special Advocates, said this model of internal investigation wasn’t effective.

“It was clear [foster youth] didn’t feel comfortable calling the department about the department,” Crockett said.

One Voice Texas worked with Texas Court-Appointed Special Advocates to push the bill into legislation. The organizations gained the support of Republican Sen. Lois W. Kolkhorst and Democrat Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. to champion the bill.

After testifying before the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee inside the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, champions for House Bill 1371 (L-R) Katherine Barillas, One Voice Texas Director of Child Welfare Policy, and Sarah Crockett, Texas CASA Public Policy Coordinator, take a moment to thank former foster youth Kristopher Sharp and April McWilliams for sharing their courageous stories in support of the legislation. Credit: Texas CASA
After testifying before the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee inside the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, champions for House Bill 1371 (L-R) Katherine Barillas, One Voice Texas Director of Child Welfare Policy, and Sarah Crockett, Texas CASA Public Policy Coordinator, take a moment to thank former foster youth Kristopher Sharp and April McWilliams for sharing their courageous stories in support of the legislation. Credit: Texas CASA

The bill, SB 830, establishes an independent, full-time ombudsman to specifically monitor and field complaints from foster youth about the Department of Family and Protective Services. It details policies including how the ombudsman should report complaints, file a yearly report on its services and prohibit retaliatory action against foster youths’ complaints.

The Department of Family and Protective Services’ system currently handles concerns of abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and adults with disabilities or people who are older than 65, according to its website. It does not have a specified person for complaints from foster youth.

This legislation will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2015. At that point, the Health and Human Services Commission will appoint an ombudsman for foster youth filing complaints against the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Meiling Bedard is a journalism intern for The Chronicle of Social Change and a junior at Boston University.

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Meiling Bedard
About Meiling Bedard 14 Articles
Meiling is a journalism intern for The Chronicle of Social Change and a junior at Boston University.

6 Comments

  1. I hope this new Ombudsman helps. I don’t see however how this is independent since the Ombudsman will report to the Health & Human Service Commission and they are the ones that oversee the Department of Family & Protective Services. It would be nice if there could be a truly independent review and investigation of CPS.

  2. is there a phone number to reach the ombudsman. I have been trying to reach them for 4ys.to no avail.

    • Currently you can contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400 to report child abuse, neglect or exploitation. If you want to reach the Texas Health and Human Services Office of the Ombudsman, call 1-877-787-8999.

  3. Congrats to Texas Foster Care Alumni and Katherine at One Voice advocating for our brothers and sisters in foster care! Where would child welfare be with out FC alumni speaking for them.

  4. Ya, we see what happened when Texas foster children report sexual molestation in their foster homes. Everyone gets on tv and makes promises to victim families like the Cooks of Cleburne and nothing is ever done and the reported abuse is denied.

  5. Congratulations to Texas for this new b.s. Ombudsmans offices in other states merely serve as a lawsuit tickler to the state. When customers complain, their visits will be cancelled and most likely the complaining child will be drugged. Ombudsman offices protect the state and counties, not the children.

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