An Office of Child Advocate for Vermont

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Creating a restorative, transparent Child Protection System that instills trust through independent oversight.

Bill H.215 was introduced on Tuesday, February 12, 2019.

To follow its progress follow this link.

 

Key Functions of the Office of Child Advocate

The OCA will:

  • Listen to all concerns about Vermont’s Department for Children and Families regarding

      Children under protective supervision
     Children in foster care or institutional settings 

    Children involved with juvenile justice
       Children in need of services

  • Respond to complaints with a credible review process

  • Respect the importance of every person in a child’s life

  • Build collaborative relationships for reform

  • Promote practices that are proven to be effective to help children and families

  • Maintain independence and impartiality

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Improving the Child Protection System Response

The OCA will turn complaints into building blocks for better child welfare and juvenile justice systems by:

  • Educating policymakers and the public on what children need and best practices

  • Promoting responsive public policy for child welfare

  • Ensuring that DCF has the resources to effectively do the best for Vermont’s children

Structuring the Office For Success

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Voices for Vermont’s Children suggests that the Office of Child Advocate report to an Oversight Commission comprised experts in policy, children’s services, child advocacy, the courts, and public safety. Voices recommends that this commission include the Ver-mont Citizens Advisory Board leadership as well as members of the Legislature and other stakeholders.

The Commission would:
• Recommend qualified candidates to the governor for appointment as Director of the Office of the Child Advocate
• Provide oversight of the Office of the Child Advocate
• Collaborate with the Office of the Child Advocate to identify and promote best practices
• Receive the Child Advocate’s Annual Report and ensure its dissemination

An OCA director has the opportunity for regional collaboration and a national collective, which would assist in informing best practices for Vermont. 36 States have some form of independent oversight of their child protection agency, including the other five NewEngland States.

Voices believes the newly established OCA in New Hampshire is model for Vermont to follow.

Equity Lens

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Vermont consistently ranks among the highest rate of out-of-home placement in the United States. Separating children from their family of origin is traumatic even when executed well. We need to understand why Vermont’s rate is so high.

The rate of children being placed in two or more foster homes in VT (39% in 2016) is also higher than the national average (35%) and second only to Massachusetts among New England States.

Low-income families are much more likely to come in contact with the child protection system. While poverty is not an allowable cause for a child protection investigation, conditions related to income can prevent family reunification - for example if the parent is unable to secure housing.

The Office of Child Advocate will analyze these factors and more to move toward an equitable, effective child protection system.