Emily Rice Published

Clarity Provided On Foster Care Ombudsmen

An adult embraces a child holding a teddy bear.Seventyfour/Adobe Stock

Lawmakers heard from the office of West Virginia’s Foster Care Ombudsman Monday during a Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization.

Pamela Woodman-Kaehler, office director of the Foster Care Ombudsman, gave a presentation and answered questions about West Virginia’s Foster Care Ombudsman’s purposes and functions.

“The foster care ombudsman investigates and resolves complaints that basically relate to the child welfare system,” Woodman-Kaehler said. “If there is an action or inaction or decision of any state agency that is involved with the foster care population, it is typically within our jurisdiction to help our public with that issue.”

Established by the West Virginia Legislature in 2019, the West Virginia foster care ombudsman’s team has received a total of 1,834 complaints. Woodman-Kaehler could not comment on which claims have been substantiated. There are currently 6,262 children in West Virginia state care.

“And we talked to hundreds and thousands of people, overall in meetings, and panels with relationships to investigating complaints, and helping people,” Woodman-Kaehler said. “A very important part of what we do is we substantiate or validate complaints that are validatable that come to our office, and we keep track of complaint validity by topic and by county and we are working hard to attempt to map that.”

Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, asked Woodman-Kaehler about the number of complaints and some issues surrounding vouchers not being accepted at certain stores. She said the department issued a variety of different changes.

“I stayed on top of those changes and how they were being implemented with leadership,” she said. “If there are complaints about vouchers only being accepted at a particular store, I would suspect it’s a communication error on the part of a well-intended, but inaccurate employee sharing information.”

Woodman-Kaehler reported that more than 10 people work in the foster care ombudsman’s unit, and due to anonymity procedures couldn’t elaborate further.

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked Woodman-Kaehler if her office has enough staff, given nationwide workforce shortages. 

“Our workforce is positioned all over the state, we are not Charleston-centric, we are throughout the state so that we can have that presence wherever we may be needed,” she said.

Woodman-Kaehler also said the office of the foster care ombudsman’s budget is $979,000, and as of the fiscal year to-date the office has spent just under $600,000 of that sum.