Press Release | September 17, 2019

New Bill Strengthens Oversight of District’s Child Welfare System

As CFSA works towards exiting court-ordered supervision, Nadeau introduces bill to create an independent ombudsperson

Working to strengthen oversight of the District’s child welfare system, today Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau introduced a bill establishing an independent and impartial office of the Child Safety and Well-Being Ombudsperson. The Child Safety and Well-being Ombudsperson Establishment Act of 2019 was co-introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso, Robert White, Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, and Brandon Todd. It was referred to the Committee on Health and Human Services, which is chaired by Councilmember Nadeau.

“I am proud of the improvements that the District’s Child and Family Services Agency has made as it works toward exiting the LaShawn v. Bowser court-ordered supervision,” said Councilmember Nadeau. “I believe this legislation, which follows national best practices, will demonstrate the District’s continued commitment to improvement, self-reflection, and oversight.”

The bill establishes an Office of the Child Safety and Well-Being Ombudsperson that has clear cut duties, independence, impartiality, trust, and appropriate power. It aligns with national best practices as prescribed by the US Ombudsman Association’s model statute.

The Office of the Child Safety and Well-Being Ombudsperson has four main duties:

  • To provide information, guidance, and mediation to children, youth, and the families that come into contact with the child welfare system;
  • To undertake a formal investigation of CFSA’s administrative acts when informal guidance and mediation do not sufficiently resolve an issue;
  • To monitor CFSA’s policies, procedures, and directives, and recommend changes; and
  • To prepare and provide reports to the agency, the mayor, the council, and the public about systemic trends as well as individual investigations.

To ensure its independence and autonomy the ombudsperson will be appointed by a group of citizens, nominated by both the mayor and council, who already serve as an external, independent oversight body for the District’s child welfare system. The ombudsperson will be required to have deep experience in child welfare policy and practice and they will be subject to strict conflict of interest restrictions. The ombudsperson can only be removed for cause by the council. There are strict rules about the confidentiality of individuals who speak to the ombudsperson as well as severe penalties for any acts of retaliation taken against individuals who provide information to the ombudsperson.

The bill text as introduced is below: