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State senator pushing to change child record laws to help families navigate DCFS proceedings

2 months 2 weeks 4 days ago Wednesday, March 06 2024 Mar 6, 2024 March 06, 2024 10:32 PM March 06, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - A former juvenile judge is now working alongside the Department of Children and Family Services to help kids and families under the state ombudsman office.

Former judge Kathleen Richey took the role in 2023 after Sen. Regina Barrow (D) passed legislation creating the oversight position. 

"When we created this department it was really to make sure we were really addressing issues, especially around abuse, neglect, things of that sort, and making sure things were not falling through the cracks," Sen. Barrow said.

The ombudsman works under the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office. In Richey's job she evaluates state agencies, makes recommendations for system reform, and helps families and children navigate bureaucracy.

"Sometimes when people go to court, they step out and they don't really understand what has occurred," Richey said. 

As a former judge Richey, understands the juvenile legal system. Less than a year on the job, Richey says she's running into obstacles accessing DCFS records for the families she intends to help. 

"It would be helpful to look at the minutes from the court records and talk to the other parties involved before I help a family navigate the next step," Richey said.

Sen. Barrow hoped the ombudsman could get their hands on whatever documents they needed. In revising the legislation, that did not happen. Laws continue to block Richey from accessing confidential records.

"If those laws are not amended to exempt the ombudsman section from receiving those records, then the agencies are put in the position of either giving me the records in violation of the law or following the law," Richey said.

This year Barrow said she's trying again to change the law

"Records that really could help for her to be able to make a better determination about that child," Barrow said. "That should be made available to her."

In most states, ombudsman offices have teams working together. In Louisiana, the job falls solely on Richey.

WBRZ reached out to DCFS for comment on how the potential changes could impact their process. As of March 6, we have not heard back.

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