Role and Responsibilities

The OCA fulfills its responsibilities by using the following mechanisms, to comply with our legal requirements: 

The OCA can file lawsuits on behalf of children in state care, including against other state agencies, when necessary. The OCA can also get involved in any court case involving a child in state care. 

The OCA reviews facilities licensed by DCYF. This includes group homes, residential facilities, and foster homes. The OCA staff complete thorough reviews of such placements and write reports for each review. The OCA gives a copy of each report to the program and to DCYF. The reports include a plan for fixing any problems identified during site review. The OCA also checks if service providers are following their contracts. The OCA looks at the quality of programs, talks to children, and gets involved if there are problems. The OCA is also working to make services better for children and families in Rhode Island. 

The OCA investigates any report of abuse in an institution and identifies issues that need to be fixed. The OCA can also investigate any case involving a child in state care or a licensed facility. The OCA can also be ordered to complete investigations by the court for children in the care of the Department. 

Each day, the OCA gets calls from different people like providers, police, school staff, teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, judges, and parents. The concerns identified on each call are assigned to a staff person with skill specific to the concerns. The OCA collects information, and may complete an investigation, write a report, or get involved legally.

The OCA serves as guardian ad litem (GAL) to youth who are open to the Department by voluntary placement agreements. These are children with mental health diagnoses and/or developmental disabilities. As GAL, the OCA attends treatment meetings, IEP meetings, and court hearings for the child. The OCA works with the Department and service providers to ensure the child's needs are met. Additionally, the OCA writes detailed reports for the Rhode Island Family Court to update the Court on the child's case and make important recommendations for their care.  

The OCA administers the Victim Compensation Program for children under age 21. The OCA helps child victims of crime access financial assistance for necessary services. In 2017, the OCA's responsibilities expanded to filing claims and assisting families when their child witnessed domestic violence or was a victim of sex trafficking. For youth identified as victims of sex trafficking, the OCA collaborates with law enforcement and service providers to ensure their safety and provide appropriate plans and services. The OCA continues to educate the public about this program. 

The OCA monitors trends in the child welfare system to inform potential policy changes. The OCA advises on proposed DCYF policy changes to ensure they are in the best interest of children. 

The OCA can hold public hearings and conduct studies. The findings are released as public reports to inform about trends, policy changes, legislative reform, or identify areas in need of large-scale systemic reform. 

In 2016, the authority of the Office of the Child Advocate was expanded to review any child fatality or near fatality in specific circumstances. These circumstances include when the child was in the care of the DCYF or had recent contact with the Department, when a sibling, household member, or daycare provider was under investigation for child abuse and neglect within the past twelve (12) months, or if the fatality or near fatality resulted from abuse and/or neglect. The OCA then writes a comprehensive public report based on extensive investigation, research, review, and discussion of the cases, policies, statutes, and other relevant materials. The Child Fatality Review Panel makes recommendations for systemic change to ensure the safety and welfare of all children involved with the Department. 

The OCA can make necessary changes to the system by advocating for new laws. The OCA has the power to create and suggest changes to the law that will improve the lives of children in Rhode Island.  

The OCA staff have given many presentations to help people understand our office and how we can help children in state care. We have talked to police departments, schools, college and graduate students, and community service providers. We have also taught people in the community how they can help. We have worked with local schools and organizations that do community projects for children in state care.

The OCA staff are part of many committees, including the Children's Cabinet, the Multi-Disciplinary Team for the Hasbro Aubin Center, the Critical Death Review for the Department of Health, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Policy Workgroups, the Human Trafficking Task Force, the Child Care Commission, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. We are happy to be part of any committee that helps children in Rhode Island. 

The OCA is doing more charity work to improve the lives of children in state care. The OCA collaborates with Adoption Rhode Island and Attorney Lise Iwon to organize the Annual Duffle Bag Bash. At this event, we collected duffle bags, gift cards, and monetary donations. We give children and youth duffle bags to carry their belongings and provide gift cards to help children get clothes, personal hygiene products, and school supplies.

In 2017, the Office of the Child Advocate became the Federal Monitor for the Children's Rights Lawsuit. The OCA will make sure the DCYF follows the settlement agreement and reports to the Rhode Island Federal Court about their progress toward reaching the goals outlined in the agreement.