PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney today signed Executive Order 5-22 establishing an Office of the Youth Ombudsperson (OYO) within the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OYO will provide additional oversight over the City of Philadelphia’s child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health systems with respect to youth who are residing in Residential Treatment Facilities (RTFs) with a goal of continuing to improve the safety and quality of services.

“Every young person deserves the best opportunities and care, and the new Office of the Youth Ombudsperson will create valuable new avenues for oversight, quality assurance, and individual support for youth in residential placement,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “We hold ourselves to the highest standard when it comes to the wellbeing of children in the City’s care, and look forward to the OYO’s contributions to this ongoing work.”

“Philadelphia youth are our most important resource and we must do everything possible to ensure their safety and wellbeing while in residential placements,” said City of Philadelphia Inspector General Alexander DeSantis. “The OIG is very proud to help build this important addition to the City’s larger oversight mechanism.”

“All children and youth deserve to be safe and well treated while in residential placement”, said Deputy Mayor for the Office of Children and Families Vanessa Garrett Harley. “I am pleased that the Mayor’s Executive Order creating the OYO will provide another important safeguard for children and youth in placement, by ensuring that there is yet another avenue to report issues and concerns. While there certainly exist mechanisms to receive and address concerns regarding youth in placement; the fact that the OYO is an independent office may provide some children and youth with the psychological comfort necessary to come forward and voice complaints and concerns.”

Youth residential placements, also called “congregate care,” include group homes, psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (RTFs), state-run detention centers, and other similar facilities for youth in the fields of child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health treatment. Residential Treatment Facilities are licensed by the state and are operated by, contracted with, or regulated by the Department of Human Service (DHS), the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), and/or Community Behavioral Health (CBH).

“Every child, youth, and family deserves to have a caring team of adults and peers in their corner who are looking out for their best interests,” said DHS Commissioner Kimberly Ali. “DHS looks forward to working alongside the new Office of the Youth Ombudsperson to continue its work to empower families, listen to their concerns, help them navigate the system, and find solutions to issues that are raised.”

“The new Office of the Youth Ombudsperson is a City resource that will elevate the voices of children and families and ensure their needs are served. This is critically important not only for continuous improvement of services, but also in response to addressing the challenges of these past few years,” said Dr. Jill Bowen, Commissioner, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS).

In November 2019 the Youth Residential Placement Task Force published a report to reduce residential placement and improve the safety and quality of placement. A Youth Ombudsperson was one of the task force’s recommendations. The OYO’s duties as outlined in the executive order will include:

  • Receiving complaints and inquiries from youth and members of the public regarding the care provided in residential placements, and making referrals for investigation and resolution
  • Independently evaluating the quality of care, treatment, and education provided to youth in residential placements
  • Monitoring and reviewing the policies and procedures used by the Office of Children and Families, DHS, DBHIDS, and CBH to evaluate, investigate, and address issues with residential placement facilities.
  • Monitoring complaints and other data to ensure system quality and provide recommendations to City agencies.
  • Liaising with youth advocates for guidance and conducting public meetings at least once annually
  • Publishing materials and guidance for youth, families, providers, courts and others about residential placement process, youth rights and resources, and other relevant information.

“Having a local Ombudsman office can provide a source of protection for youth by having someone to express their issues and needs when they are in placements in the child welfare system. It is imperative for youth to have someone follow up on their safety and concerns. This is an enormous step in the right direction. Now is the time for this office.” said Duane Price, Advocates Transforming Youth Systems youth advocate.

“Before Glen Mills or Wordsworth were making headlines, former City Councilmember Helen Gym, who was chair of City Council’s Children and Youth Committee, and I were raising flags on abuse and neglect at residential facilities,” City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (Second District) said. “Our Youth Residential Placement Task Force brought all stakeholders to the table, including Philadelphia youth who had gone through placement. One of the most important Task Force recommendations was a Youth Ombudsperson. I thank Mayor Kenney for making the Youth Ombudsperson a reality with a thorough, well-crafted executive order.”

“This Executive Order signed by the Mayor with the support of City Council is a significant step forward in protecting the most vulnerable children in our city,” said Donna Cooper, Executive Director of Children First and a member of the Youth Residential Placement Task Force. “It’s long past time to end the systemic harm that the very children who’ve been abused and neglected by their families suffer when they are sent to institutions. The creation of the Office of Youth Ombudsperson is intended to interrupt this cycle of violence and give these children a better chance of living in places that heal, rather than harm, them.”

The full text of the executive order is available online. The Youth Ombudsperson position is now posted on the City’s jobs board.