What kinds of complaints does the Ombuds investigate?
The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds investigates complaints about the actions or conduct of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families. Examples of complaint issues include, but are not limited to:
- Safety and welfare of a child
- Placement of a child in state care
- Family separation and reunification
- Foster care
- Agency Conduct
- Parents’ Rights
The Ombuds does not investigate complaints about court cases or decisions, CASA/GALs, law enforcement, attorneys or child welfare agencies outside of Washington State.
When should someone submit a complaint to the Ombuds?
If you feel the Department of Children, Youth and Families’ conduct is harmful to a family or child and inconsistent with laws and policies, please submit a complaint. While we encourage everyone to try to resolve their concerns directly with the state agency involved, you are not required to exhaust other procedures before submitting a complaint to the Ombuds.
Does it cost anything to complain to the Ombuds?
No. There is no cost involved.
Are complaints to the Ombuds confidential?
Yes. State laws require the Ombuds to maintain confidentiality of all matters under investigation including the identity of the complainant unless disclosure is necessary to enable the Ombuds to carry out duties and to support recommendations. The Ombuds may not disclose confidential records obtained from an agency.
Can I make an anonymous complaint?
Yes. The Ombuds accepts and investigates anonymous complaints. We encourage complainants to share their name and contact information as this allows the Ombuds to follow up and discuss the complaint in more detail and obtain additional information.
What can the Ombuds do about my complaint?
The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds is not an advocate. We are neutral, objective investigators. Once we determine the facts of a situation, we attempt to find an informal solution.
If we find that a complaint about a state agency is justified, we recommend ways to resolve it. Those recommendations may be formal or informal. It’s important to know it is not uncommon for an investigation to find that a state agency did not do anything unlawful, unreasonable, unfair, or otherwise in error.
How does an investigation work?
The Ombuds investigation focuses on the actions and conduct of the state child welfare agency. For example, the Ombuds does not go to a family’s home to investigate an allegation of child neglect, rather the Ombuds would review the actions of Child Protective Services to ensure CPS had responded appropriately to an allegation of child neglect.
The Ombuds collects and reviews information and evidence from the complainant, state agency staff, and other sources and reviews relevant laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. Once all the information and evidence is collected and analyzed, the Ombuds determines what happened and whether the state child welfare agency followed state laws, rules and agency policies. If the allegations in the complaint are substantiated, the Ombuds will make recommendations to the state agency to resolve the complaint.
Will I get a copy of the Ombuds’ Report at the end of the Investigation?
No. The investigation files and reports are confidential. However, the Ombuds will contact you at the end of the investigation and explain our findings and conclusions. However, due to the confidential nature of child welfare records, the Ombuds is often unable to provide detailed information.
Can the Ombuds force a state agency to do something?
No. The Ombuds does not have direct enforcement power. However, the Ombuds works to persuade the agency to adopt the recommendations. The more relevant and practical the recommendations made by the Ombuds, the more likely the state agency is to adopt them.
What if I have a concern about how the Ombuds handled my complaint?
Please bring your concern to the attention of the director of the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds.
What does the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds do?
The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds investigates complaints about state agencies responsible for children in need of state protection, children residing in state care, and families involved with the state child welfare system due to allegations of child maltreatment. The Ombuds also works to identify issues and solutions to improve the state child welfare system. Key features of the Ombuds include:
- Independence- The director Ombuds is appointed by and reports to the Governor. The Ombuds Office is separate and independent from the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
- Impartiality- The Ombuds acts as a neutral, objective investigator and not as an advocate.
- Confidentiality- The Ombuds must maintain the confidentiality of complainants and information obtained during investigations.
- Credible Review Process- After gathering information, the Ombuds determines whether or not the alleged conduct or action occurred, and if so, whether the state agency followed state laws, rules, and agency policies.
What if I have a problem that the Ombudsman doesn’t handle – who do I contact?
If we cannot help you with your problem, we will try to identify another resource that can help resolve the issue. A list of other services and community organizations that might be able to help you, can be found here (link to “other places to go for help”).
How do I make a complaint?
The quickest and easiest way to make a complaint to the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds is through our website at OFCO.WA.GOV
If you need assistance, you can call our office at 206-439-3870.
You can also mail a complaint to:
The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombuds
6840 Fort Dent Way, Suite 125
Tukwila, WA 98188
Can the Ombuds represent me in court or at an administrative hearing?
No. The Ombuds is not an advocate, and does not provide legal advice or legal services. The Ombuds’ records and reports are not admissible in court proceedings.