Office of Children and Family Services

Picture of youth

Ombudsman

FAQs about the Office of the Ombudsman

Who are the ombudsmen?

Ombudsmen specialize in juvenile justice and youth rights; some ombudsmen are attorneys. OOTO has a director who is also an attorney with experience in juvenile justice who reports directly to the commissioner of OCFS. Occasionally, OOTO has a law student assistant or pro bono scholar.

Who contacts OOTO?

Youth, their parents or attorneys, and other interested persons.

Can a site staff member call OOTO on behalf of a youth, even if the youth has not asked to call?

Yes. OOTO takes calls from many people, including staff. Staff can also call about their concerns related to a youth and whenever they think a youth may benefit from OOTO’s services.

How can a person contact the Office of the Ombudsman?
  • Call the OOTO Helpline at 1-888-219-9818.
    • OOTO’s office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. An ombudsman can address most issues then.
    • If calling the Helpline after 5 p.m. or on weekends, press 1 to leave a message for OOTO, press 2 if the is about police contact. An ombudsman will check the Helpline regularly.
  • Email: myallies@ocfs.ny.gov.
  • Write to:
    OCFS Office of the Ombudsman
    52 Washington Street, 230N
    Rensselaer, NY 12144
What statutes and regulations guide OOTO?

Executive Law § 523 and 9 NYCRR 177 generally set out OOTO’s role. Other OCFS-related policies also guide OOTO’s conduct and role.

Are the ombudsmen advocates for all youth who reside in residential placement?

No. OOTO only works with two types of youth: those who have been adjudicated by Family Court or Criminal Court and reside at various sites, or those who are pending disposition in county detention facilities. OOTO does not handle youth who have been placed by a county (exception: youth in the Close to Home Initiative), foster care cases, or youth placed with the Office of Mental Health (OMH), Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), or Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).

What kind of legal rights do youth have while in OCFS custody?

Youth in care have legal rights. They have all the rights established by the constitutions and laws of the United States and New York State. The definition of legal rights includes rights granted by court orders, decisions, or stipulations; state and federal regulations; and agency or facility policies. These rights cover many aspects of a youth’s placement, from intake to discharge. As a result, legal rights within the OOTO’s purview are broad.

Will an ombudsman represent a youth in court?

No. OOTO is not a law firm, and the ombudsmen are not the attorneys for or legal representatives of a youth in court proceedings. The ombudsmen can contact a youth’s attorney or law guardian on behalf of a youth, and can help connect a youth to free or low-cost legal services.

Is OOTO the Justice Center?

No. OOTO does not do the kind of investigative work that the Justice Center does. The ombudsmen, however, are mandated reporters and have the legal obligation to report all child abuse allegations or maltreatment to the Justice Center.

Do youth need permission to call OOTO?

Residents may call OOTO with any concern they may have concerning their placement. Sometimes, a youth may have to wait until certain programs (example: school) are complete to place a call, or until an incident is resolved. But, once requested, a site should permit a youth to call as soon as reasonably possible. Placement staff cannot refuse a youth’s call to OOTO.

Must youth tell staff why they are calling the ombudsman?

No. Although staff are responsible for supervising the youth in their charge, they should take care and make their best effort that a youth is able to speak to the ombudsman without their conversation being overheard—especially if the youth asks for privacy. Mail correspondence between youth and OOTO is also confidential.

As part of their treatment, shouldn’t youth learn to resolve their own problems without OOTO?

OOTO always encourages residents to resolve problems on their own. A youth’s comfort and ability to advocate for herself or himself is a critical life skill. When counselling youth, common questions an ombudsman will ask are

  • Who have you talked to at your facility about this?
  • Have you asked staff about this issue?
  • Is there a staff person you can trust who can help you with this issue?
  • Have you used the placement’s grievance program? (where applicable)

Sometimes, however, a youth feels unable to ask for help at the site or feels uncomfortable doing so.

What should a site do if law enforcement comes and asks to speak with a youth?

Staff should immediately call OOTO whenever law enforcement asks to speak to a youth. Staff should also call OOTO if a youth is about to be or may be arrested, regardless of if she or he asks to speak with OOTO.

If someone who is not a youth calls about a youth, must the person tell OOTO their name?

If someone calls OOTO and does not want their identity disclosed to others, OOTO will honor that request. However, providing contact information is important and is necessary in the event OOTO needs additional information to identify and solve a problem.


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