Monday, May 02, 2005



Inquiry and Complaint Summary

A CENTRAL FUNCTION of the Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman (OFCO) is to assure that government agencies fulfill their obligations to children and families in an appropriate and timely manner. Because the state's response to children in need of protection and to families who are the subject of allegations or findings of child abuse or neglect is so critical, OFCO dedicates most of its efforts toward activities that result in a state agency's direct and immediate response to their needs. This section provides a summary of OFCO's activities from June 17 to December 1, 1997. It describes those who initiated contact with OFCO, children affected by an agency's act or omission, the nature of complaints received, and OFCO's efforts to assist children and families through case-specific interventions and systemic investigations.

Initial Contacts

OFCO received 152 contacts during the reporting period, the majority (84 percent) by telephone. Of the 152 contacts, 73 percent were:

* Requests for information on laws, policies, or procedures affecting children in need of state protection, children who reside in state facilities, or families and children under state supervision due to allegations or findings of child abuse or neglect;

* Inquiries about OFCO and how to access services; or
* Requests for complaint forms.

The remaining 27 percent of contacts were either:

* Complaints requesting either an intervention or investigation (19 percent of all contacts); or

* Inquiries regarding issues outside OFCO's jurisdiction (8 percent).

OFCO responded directly to inquiries and complaints and referred all non-related inquiries to other agencies. Significantly, complaints requesting an intervention or investigation arrived at the rate of about one per day. These complaints provide the mechanism through which OFCO is able to identify children and families at risk of harm and in need of assistance due to an agency's act or omission, and to pinpoint recurring and systemic problems that adversely affect children and families. The following chart shows OFCO's screening process.

Case Study #3

Three young foster children were returned to their mother after 32 months in the same foster home. Within two months, the mother began to abuse drugs again, and the children were returned to their foster mother, who had an unblemished 23-year record as a foster parent and wished to adopt the children if they became available.

However, during the two months the DSHS Division of Licensed Resources (DLR) had determined that the foster mother should only be licensed for one child, not three, due to the number of other children residing in her home.

Although the renewed license for this foster parent was so restricted, the children's caseworker returned the children to the foster mother under a waiver she wrote with her supervisor's approval, which - if approved by DLR - would permit the children to remain in their long-time placement despite the restriction.

However, the DLR licenser refused the waiver, and his supervisor concurred.

Because a change in placement was imminent, OFCO responded immediately to the complaint it received, and an investigation quickly ensued. Following the investigation, OFCO suggested that DLR re-evaluate its refusal in light of the clear harm that would result from not allowing the children to remain in their long-time, stable foster home and the lack of any identified risk of harm resulting from their continued placement there. However, DLR continued to refuse the waiver.

Strongly believing that DLR's decision was harmful to the children's best interests, OFCO contacted the director of DLR, and formally recommended that the children be allowed to remain in their current placement.

The DLR director inquired into the matter and granted the waiver with the approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Children's Administration.

Case Study #4

A 14-year-old foster child called OFCO to complain that the DSHS Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was not providing enough counseling and other services to her and her mother under the terms of a voluntary foster placement agreement.

She wanted to be reunited with her mother, but understood that counseling was necessary before that could safely occur.

The girl told OFCO she felt her caseworker was not listening to her or seriously considering her request for increased services.

OFCO contacted the caseworker and supervisor to advise them of the girl's frustration and suggest that services be increased as she had requested. As a result, the caseworker became more attentive to the girl and reunification services were increased.

OFCO's Screening Process

Office of Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

Source of Complaints

Complaints arriving at OFCO were made mostly by parents who were directly affected by an agency's act or omission, or by family, relatives, or foster parents. Contacts made by community professionals or service providers accounted for 19 percent of complaints.

Complaints were evenly balanced with the state population as a whole; 78 percent of the state's population resides in western Washington, and - coincidentally - 78 percent of the contacts were from western regions. All of those contacting OFCO spoke English as their primary language.

The profile of OFCO's clientele is provided in the following tables and charts.

Persons Who Contacted OFCO

June 17 to December 1, 1997
*Other includes friend, neighbor, DSHS employee, concerned citizen, CASA/Guardian ad Litem. Office of Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

Affected Children

Complaints received by OFCO involved 176 children. Children were typically young, over half were age seven or younger. About one child in four was from an ethnic or racial minority group. One in four also had some type of physical, mental, developmental, and/or other disability.

Number of Children by Age Group

June 17 to December 1, 1997
Race, Ethnicity of Children

June 17 to December 1, 1997

TOTAL = 176 (7 unknown) * African American (16), Native American (10), Asian American (7), or Hispanic (7). Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

Types of Disabilities Among Children

Total Children = 176, Disabled = 47 (NOTE: Some children had multiple disabilities)
*ADD = Attention Deficit Disorder, ADHD = Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder **FAS = Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAE = Fetal Alcohol Effect
Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman, January 1998

Issues Identified by Those Who Contacted OFCO

The most frequently identified complaint issue regarded child protection and safety; the next most frequent complaint issue was of unnecessary family separation and failure to reunify, followed by issues relating to children's foster placements.

Frequently Identified Issues Number of complaints that raised the issue*

Child Protection and Safety 36
Child in need of protection due to suspected sexual abuse 10
Child in need of protection due to suspected physical abuse 8
Child safety at risk due to recommendation to return home 8
Child in need of protection due to suspected neglect 6
Foster child at risk of abuse or neglect 4

Family Separation and Reunification 35
Child unnecessarily removed from the home 14
Child not placed with a relative 9
Failure to provide appropriate family-child contact 6
Failure to make reasonable efforts to reunify family 6

Foster Placement Issues 20
Child's foster placement changed unnecessarily 11
Child's medical, dental, mental health needs not met 9

Adoption Issues 9
Foster parent adoption 5
Relative adoption 4
*Some complaints raised more than one issue.

Complainants most frequently alleged agency conduct that was lawfully within the agency's discretion, but which, if true, had resulted in a harmful outcome. However, many complainants alleged conduct which, if true, constituted a violation of law or policy.

Allegations Number of complaints that made the allegation
Alleged Harmful Outcomes 48
Agency act, decision, or recommendation was consistent with law, policy or procedure, but led to harmful result 25
Agency conducted an inadequate or incomplete investigation 12
Agency failed to investigate a child abuse or neglect referral 6
ncy act, decision, or recommendation was allegedly too slow 5

Alleged Conduct Violations 36
Agency act, decision, or recommendation was contrary to law, policy or procedure 19
Agency failed to act, decide or recommend as required by law, policy or procedure 13
Agency's investigation was contrary to law, policy or procedure 4

Other Acts or Omissions 17

Non-OFCO Agency Actions 11

Where Complaints Were Directed

June 17 to December 1, 1997
* Other includes school administrator, attorney, county juvenile detention official, private agency.
Office of Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

DSHS Complaints by Region, Office

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was the subject of 80 percent of complaints received by OFCO. Of these, the vast majority, 93 percent, were directed at the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS, which includes Child Protective Services), while seven percent were directed at the newly established Division of Licensed Resources (DLR). The information below shows the distribution of complaints across the state.
Children's Administration Headquarters 1 Region 4 25
King South DCFS 8
Region 1 22 King Eastside DCFS 1
Spokane DCFS 10 Seattle Central DCFS 10
Wenatchee DCFS 8 Seattle South DCFS 1
Moses Lake DCFS 3 Seattle North DCFS 3
Spokane DLR 1 Seattle Central DLR 1

Seattle North DLR 1
Region 2 6
Tri-Cities DCFS 3 Region 5 12
Yakima DCFS 2 Tacoma DCFS 8
Yakima DLR 1 Kitsap DCFS 3

Tacoma DLR 1
Region 3 14
Everett DCFS 3 Region 6 10
Sky Valley DCFS 3 Kelso DCFS 3
Lynnwood DCFS 3 Centralia DCFS 2
Bellingham DCFS 2 Olympia DCFS 2
Smokey Point DCFS 1 Vancouver DCFS 2
Mt. Vernon DCFS 1 Aberdeen DCFS 1
Everett DLR 1
DCFS = Division of Children and Family Services

DLR = Division of Licensed Resources
DSHS Regions

OFCO's Response

OFCO's decisions to intervene in or investigate a case are grounded in its unique role as an independent voice for children and families. Consistent with this role, OFCO acts only on those complaints in which the well-being or interests of children or families appear to be in jeopardy. Moreover, irrespective of the particular outcome sought by the complainant, OFCO's interventions are aimed at preventing or mitigating harm to a child or family. Its investigations are aimed at addressing recurring or system-wide problems that adversely affect children's safety, well-being or permanence, or that affect appropriate family preservation or reunification.


OFCO intervened in 63 cases for the purpose of preventing or mitigating possible harm resulting from an agency's act or omission. Slightly over half of OFCO's interventions were conducted on an emergent basis, where there was reason to believe that children or families might be in imminent peril without immediate action. Most interventions consisted of OFCO informally contacting an agency front-line worker or supervisor to inquire about the alleged act or omission, provide information, express concerns, explore other possible responses by the agency, and/or advise the agency that OFCO is monitoring the situation.

OFCO found it necessary to issue a formal recommendation to DSHS Children's Administration in two cases. These included:

* A recommendation to an area manager that CPS conduct face-to-face interviews with children who were possible abuse victims.
* A recommendation to an area manager that the department reconvene a community child protection team to ensure child safety issues are thoroughly addressed before the department recommends dismissal of dependency petition.

OFCO Intervention Type

Categories not mutually exclusive.

Highest Level of DSHS Contact

* Court Appointed Special Advocate, Guardian ad Litem, Assistant Attorney General, local law enforcement, hospital, public school administrator.
Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

Issues that Prompted an Intervention

June 17 to December 1, 1997
Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman January 1998

Results of Interventions

Although OFCO does not have authority to impose its recommendations directly on an agency, OFCO's interventions resulted in an agency changing its position to address OFCO's concerns in 26, or 53 percent, of the 49 cases that were closed as of December 1. Over half of the issues OFCO gets involved in result in changes in an agency's position.

Some changes - including new or more thorough investigations by CPS, police child welfare checks, increased family monitoring and support services, and appointment of attorneys or guardians ad litem - have resulted in greater protection for children. Other changes, which have resulted in greater responsiveness to the needs of families, include allowances for appropriate parental visitation, provision of family reunification services and change in a child's foster placement to provide closer proximity to the child's mother.

In addition, OFCO helped to facilitate reversals of decisions to move children from long-standing foster placements, re-enrollment and development of an appropriate educational plan for a foster child who had been expelled from school, and finalized adoptions of legally-free children. These actions have resulted in greater child well-being and permanence.

In the 23 instances where the agency did not change its position, OFCO concluded that the agency's initial position was appropriate in 18 cases, and in five cases the agency's position was consistent with existing law or policy, but the result was nevertheless problematic.


In cases where OFCO declined an intervention, it was because OFCO found:

* No clear evidence that a family or child was at risk of harm (12 cases);
* Follow-up determined issue was outside OFCO jurisdiction (9 cases);
* OFCO could not achieve the requested outcome (6 cases);
* The issue was either too vague, or was resolved (6 cases).


OFCO received 16 complaints requesting it to investigate a matter that had already occurred. Of these, 13 requests were included as part of the Wenatchee petition. The petition - submitted to OFCO by a coalition of defense attorneys, social service organizations and concerned citizens - requested an investigation of the actions taken by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) during the 1994-95 Wenatchee child sex abuse investigations. In October 1997, OFCO accepted for investigation three of the Wenatchee-related complaints, because OFCO decided they indicated a possible system-wide problem of DSHS establishing an inappropriate relationship with law enforcement agencies during child sexual abuse investigations.

The three complaints accepted for investigation allege that the DSHS Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) inappropriately assisted law enforcement agencies in:

* Conducting and failing to document its own child interviews.
* Participating in and failing to document joint child interviews with law enforcement officials.
* Making certain mental health treatment decisions, including decisions to place children in psychiatric hospitals.

After announcing it would conduct a targeted review of the Wenatchee investigations for the purpose of evaluating the need for new statewide policies and protocols designed to protect children, OFCO submitted a supplemental budget request for one-time investigation costs and requested the appointment of independent legal counsel. OFCO expects to issue a report with findings and recommendations in late 1998.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not know this web page existed. I had my child removed without any justifiable cause whatsoever in 1997. The agency never served me any paperwork; never recontacted me; I never saw a judge; I had never had a complaint in my life, and my child was 17 years old. They placed her with a person that had no authority to take her. My child also dropped out of high school, after skipping school while staying with them. The DCFS repeatedly changed the charges on the telephone, while refusing to ever serve me any paperwork. They told me that they had photographs of bruises. I was refused when I asked to see them. There was absolutely nothing wrong in our home and there was certainly no reason to remove my child. This agency was criminal in the way they treated our family. If I had known a way to find help I would have reached out back then, as there were several families complaining of the same treatment. The damage they caused our family will never be forgotten. There definitely needs to be oversight!

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw my childs mother and her boyfriend smoking pot in front of my child in a closed house with pot smoke all over the air dcfs said the dont investigate that and i was hungup on when i called back i was told everybody has differant moral standards they raise their childeren by has anyone else heard this

9:51 AM  

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