Philadelphia Ombudsperson Office Project
Youth advocates in Advocates Transforming Youth Systems (ATYS) formally Youth Fostering Change (YFC) and Advocates for Youth Justice (A4YJ) formerly Juveniles for Justice (J4J) worked to raise awareness and accountability for the harms that kids and youth face in the justice and foster care systems. Our staff and program members recognize the need to push for administrative and legislative policies that address oversight and system accountability. This is particularly important with high numbers of youth in congregate care and juvenile facilities facing barriers to accessing quality treatment, while dealing with the emotional, physical, and psychological impact of being incarcerated and in group care. Youth Advocates worked to raise awareness of the challenges and harms kids and youth face in systems, the need for increased accountability, transparency, and policies that prevent kids from entering into institutional care, and that address the trauma caused after they exit.
Juvenile Law Center's Youth Advocacy Program members and staff presented testimony to Philadelphia City Council, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Service in 2020 and 2021. Youth powerfully spoke of the harm’s they and their peers experienced in institutionalized care and the lack of reporting options to prevent further harm. At the hearing, Youth Advocacy Program members and staff demanded that local officials take action by creating a local office of the Ombudsman dedicated to addressing harms and concerns Philadelphia youth are facing in congregate care and juvenile facilities. The implementation of a local Youth Ombudsman office can be imperative to preventing child tragedies and allow for transparency of facilities where children and youth may be facing harm or at risk. Children and youth deserve to have direct access to someone who will hear their claims and experiences and hold systems accountable for when they are hurt, neglected, unsafe, and put at risk.
Our staff, and youth advocates were influential in successfully getting Philadelphia officials and Philadelphia mayor’s office to dedicate $500,000 funding in the last city budget cycle. WHYY article details the accomplishment further. Expected to be housed within the Inspector General’s Office, the Youth Ombudsman Office will have subpoena powers and a dedicated small team to independently investigate complaints, and make findings on behalf of youth and families, and publish reports, and make recommendations. Nationally, Ombudsman offices have been established in several state, local, county, and federal governments, and are housed academic organizations, businesses and can investigate, provide system accountability, by monitoring placements, and programs that provide children’s services by working to protect the interests and rights of children. Children’s Ombudsman/ Office of the Child Advocate have been established in approximately twenty-three states, and have duties and purposes related to children’s services. Another five states have statewide Ombudsman programs dedicated to addressing all governmental agency concerns, including children’s services. Nine states have related Ombudsman services, program-specific services, or county-run programs. For more information please visit the National Conference of State Legislators website.
This win is monumental for our kids and youth in Philadelphia who are living congregate care and juvenile facilities. This win has the potential to further protect the children in Philadelphia, and dramatically reduce the number of children housed in these often unsafe and poorly oversighted facilities. Our youth leaders are proud of this win, and shared their goals for the local office, stating, “We want an ombudsperson office to help take power back for youth and ensure we are never put in unsafe environments. We thank the mayor and Council for approving the creation of this office and hope that the staff in this office are dedicated to protecting youth who are most vulnerable. All youth deserve to be in homes with people who love and care for them, and not at risk of harm in institutions. We deserve to have an ombudsperson and adults who will hear our experiences and hold those caring for us accountable when we are hurt, neglected, unsafe, and put at risk. The youth of Philadelphia deserve all this and more.” Qilah David, and Duane Price, youth leaders, from Advocates for Youth Justice and Advocates Transforming Youth Systems.
Youth Advocacy Program members from both Advocates for Youth Justice and Advocates Transforming Youth Systems were instrumental and successful advocating for the creation of a local Philadelphia Ombudsperson office, and providing feedback and recommendations on the Ombudsperson position and office powers. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an Executive Order on December 1st, 2022, establishing an Office of the Youth Ombudsperson within the Office of the Inspector General. The office is currently completing a hiring search to fill the position. Youth advocates in the Youth Advocacy Program continue to provide essential recommendations and guidance for the position.
Want to Learn More?
If you're interested in learning more about Philadelphia's response to our Youth Advocacy Programs efforts, you can check out these links below:
Youth, Parents, and Advocates Demand Youth Services Ombudsperson - a blog by Juvenile Law Center CEO Sue Mangold
WURD Radio Interview with Solomon Jones - Duane's interview begins at 1:07:00
Ombudsperson Resolution Hearing: Support and Awareness - a blog by Christina Sorenson
Banner photo credit - Eskay Lim via Unsplash