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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Press Release re: Youth Ombudsman Office

Ohio’s FY22-23 budget bill could pave the way to creating an Ombuds Office that would protect and give voice to youth in the foster care system.

Current and former foster youth are launching an advocacy campaign to develop an independent Ombuds Office to protect the rights of children and youth in care by investigating and resolving reports brought by youth themselves. The office would act as a safeguard to ensure that youth have someone to call who will listen and advocate for them.

“When I was a child, I used to wish that someone would stop by our house and that they would find us. It never happened. My summers were filled with abuse and fear… By providing a venue where the voices of youth can be heard without fear of retribution, this office will ensure the safety of Ohio’s youth,” said Jonathan Thomas, the NW Ambassador of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB).

Thomas is one of the members of the YAB taking part in an advocacy campaign launched by CDF-Ohio, ACTION Ohio and the OHIO YAB to add provisions to the budget bill (HB110) that clearly state that the office should be dedicated to youth, independent from children’s services and designed by current and former foster youth. The Ohio YAB is a statewide organization of young people (aged 14-24) who have experienced foster care. ACTION Ohio (Alumni of Care Together Improving Outcomes Now Ohio (ACTION Ohio) is dedicated to improving outcomes for current and former foster care youth.

The campaign kicks off with the release of the Ombuds Office Legislative Issue Brief and advocacy toolkit followed by more than a dozen visits with legislators and youth with lived experience in foster care to explain the importance of this office. The campaign will ramp up in May during Foster Care Awareness Month and as the Ohio Senate holds hearings on the FY22-23 budget bill.

On May 17th, youth will present at the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus devoted to championing children’s issues.

“The voices and involvement of those with lived experience is key to making this office a success. My recommendation for an ombudsman goes beyond just having an independent agency/office doing the necessary investigations and advocating for youth. I believe that having someone working in this office, with the experience of going through foster care, is essential. While anyone can work to understand what it is like to go through the system, there is no better expert than those that have directly experienced it,” said Jeremy Collier, former foster youth and current advocate.

Governor DeWine included $1 million, or $500,000 in each year of the FY22-23 biennial budget bill, HB110, to establish an Ombuds Office after the Children’s Services Transformation Advisory Council recommended creating an Ombuds Office for caregivers and youth in its 2020 report. However, the bill does not include a specific appropriation or clearly state that there will be an office dedicated to foster youth. It also does not clearly state that the office will be independent from the Department of Job and Family Services or that current and former foster youth will have a role in its design and implementation.

Advocates are excited to see the progress made but seek to highlight that key provisions must be added, specifically:

1. To clearly state that the future Youth Ombudsman Office will be dedicated to youth and not combined with an office for caregivers;

2. To establish the office as independent from children’s services; and

3. To mandate that this office be designed by current and former foster youth

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