Northam Appoints Eric Reynolds Head of Foster Care Watchdog Agency


Governor Ralph Northam announced Virginia’s first Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman will be Eric Reynolds, who has previous experience as legal counsel for the Department of Social Services and the Office of Children’s Services. The announcement is the latest step in the creation of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, established by the 2020 General Assembly to help oversee Virginia’s foster care program.

“The role of the Children’s Ombudsman is to ensure every child in Virginia has a safe and permanent home,” Northam said in his announcement. “Eric Reynolds is a compassionate leader with extensive experience working in our foster care system and with agencies that serve children—he is the right person for this important position.”

The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman is independent and can receive complaints and investigate the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS.) It will also oversee compliance with statutes and policies for child protective services and foster care.

“Prior to the creation of this office, the only way for families to file a complaint with a local department of social services was with the agency itself or with the Department of Social Services.

Virginia has been working on creating the office for a long time. In 2002, the General Assembly passed a measure to create the office, but didn’t fund it, according to The Center for Health Journalism (CHJ). Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has analyzed the VDSS multiple times, repeatedly pointing out a lack of state oversight of the department, according to The Roanoke Times.

In the 2018 “Improving Virginia’s Foster Care System” report, JLARC summarized in part, “VDSS has not effectively supervised the foster care system and does not have an effective means to identify and resolve poor performance.”

The report said, “In most cases, the basic steps required by federal and state laws to ensure the safety of children in foster care are being followed in Virginia, and most children are receiving required physical and mental health services. However, a lack of adherence to federal and state requirements for ensuring children’s health and safety, even if they are infrequent, creates avoid-able risks for children in the government’s custody.

Local departments of social services do not do enough to place children in foster care with relatives, and the state does not take sufficient steps to ensure non-relative foster families are available to care for children when relatives are unavailable,” the report states.

Problems identified in the report include lengthy stays in the foster care system, high proportion of children aging out of the foster care system, and delays in adoptions for children. Other problems included caseworkers not performing required monthly visits of children and some children not receiving required health screenings.

JLARC recommendations included clarifying the VDSS’ supervisory responsibility over local departments.

According to CHJ, Delegate Chris Hurst (D-Montgomery) led several legislative efforts to create the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, until it was funded by the general budget in 2020.

“I was thrilled to champion this legislation creating the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman,” Hurst said in Northam’s announcement. “The work of the Ombudsman will be a critical step forward in keeping the best interests of the child at the center as complicated decisions are made.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Gov. Ralph Northam” by Gov. Ralph Northam.






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