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Frequently Asked Questions

What are my rights as a child in the care of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF)?

There is a state law commonly referred to as the “Children’s Bill of Rights” which lists specific rights of children in the custody and/or care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Rhode Island General Laws §42-72-15. The Children’s Bill of Rights provides in part:

  • No child in DCYF care shall be deprived of any personal property or civil rights without due process.
  • Each child shall receive humane and dignified treatment with full respect for his or her personal dignity and right to privacy.
  • Each child may communicate with any individual, group or agency consistent with the child’s treatment plan.
  • Regarding children in secure facilities, DCYF shall specify when restraint and seclusion may be used, and when and how communication by mail or by phone may be restricted.
  • Each child in a secure facility may receive visitors, including his or her attorney, guardian ad litem, Court Appointed Special Advocate, Child Advocate, physicians, mental health professionals, and members of the clergy.
  • A child is entitled to a free and appropriate education immediately upon being placed.
  • Child victims as witnesses are afforded statutory protections.
  • A child cannot be denied drug treatment solely because of DCYF placement.
  • Violations of the Children’s Bill of Rights are handled exclusively by the Family Court.

A copy of the Children’s Bill of Rights must be posted in a conspicuous place in all secure facilities and/or residential placement facilities.

What is the Office of the Child Advocate?

The Office of the Child Advocate is an independent state legal office that advocates for children whose legal, civil and special rights in the DCYF system and/or Family Court proceedings are not being met. The Office was created by the Rhode Island General Assembly to protect the legal rights of children in the custody and/or care of the state, to review and comment on policies, procedures and legislation impacting upon the safety, education and welfare of children; to investigate child fatalities and make recommendations for system wide reform; and to monitor, inspect and review foster homes, institutional and residential care facilities, and the youth correctional facility.

Is the Office of the Child Advocate a division of DCYF?
No, the Office of the Child Advocate is a separate state agency, independent of DCYF.
What are the rights and powers of the Office of the Child Advocate?

The Office of the Child Advocate has the right and statutory power to:

  • To communicate privately, by mail or in person, with any child in DCYF care.
  • To inspect, copy and/or hold records held by the clerk of the Family Court, law enforcement, agencies and institutions, public or private, where particular child has been placed within or outside the State of Rhode Island.
  • To subpoena persons with whom a particular child has been placed for care or has received treatment.
  • To take whatever steps are appropriate to see that persons are made aware of the services of the child advocate’s office, its purpose, and how it can be contacted
What is the role of the Office of the Child Advocate as a guardian ad litem for children voluntarily placed in the care of DCYF for behavioral health needs?

As guardian ad litem for children voluntarily placed by their parents in the care of DCYF, the Office of the Child Advocate speaks for the child in Family Court and makes recommendations to the Court on the child’s care.  OCA attorneys attend Reviews and Permanency Hearings in the Family Court.  In fulfilling its obligations as guardian ad litem, the Office gathers and reviews information from the child, the child’s parents, treatment team members and service providers; and reports to the Family Court on the following:

  • The wishes of both the parents and the child regarding the child’s placement.
  • The interaction of the child with his or her parents and other family members.
  • The extent of the parents’ participation and compliance with the child’s treatment plan.
  • The child’s adjustment to the placement.
  • The child’s progress under his or her treatment plan.
  • The appropriateness of the child’s care.
  • The physical, emotional, educational, social and mental needs of the child.
  • The opinion of the Office of the Child Advocate as to whether the child‘s case plan is in his or her best interests.
  • The recommendations of the Office of the Child Advocate regarding the child’s care.

The Office staff is available to answer the child’s questions and to handle any concerns or complaints the child may have about his or her care.  The Office staff often attends service plan and treatment team meetings regarding the child and meets with the child and his or her parents whenever possible.

What should I do if I am a victim of or witness to child abuse and neglect?

If you have been physically or sexually abused or if you have been neglected or you are aware of a child that has been abused or neglected by anyone, you should immediately call 1-800-RI-CHILD (1-800-742-4453) to report the abuse and/or neglect to the Child Abuse Hotline as soon as possible. Callers to the Hotline may remain anonymous. You are entitled to make this call and no one can legally take any steps to retaliate against you for making a report of what you reasonably believe to be an incident of abuse or neglect. If you have experienced bodily harm, you may also call 911

My child’s school department is not adhering to my child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or I would like to challenge my child’s IEP, what can I do?

The governing federal statute with respect to IEPs is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Your child has the right to a free and appropriate education regardless of whether you have a disability. Rhode Island, like all other states, has enacted (created) laws and regulations describing how students with disabilities are to be provided with the required education.

If you or your parents, or education advocate, feel that the IEP is inadequate, you have an absolute right to challenge it and schedule a hearing before a person who can provide an independent opinion, which means they are not working for the school. You have the right to have a lawyer at the hearing and to appeal a decision with which you disagree.  

In order to request a hearing, you or the school district must submit a due process complaint to the other party. Whoever files the complaint, must also provide the Rhode Island Department of Education with a copy of the complaint. The due process complaint will be considered sufficient unless the party receiving the due process complaint notifies the hearing officer and the other party in writing, within 15 calendar-days of re­ceiving the complaint, that the receiving party believes that the due process complaint does not meet the requirements.

A due process complaint must include the alleged violation and the facts that this violation is based on. If the complaint is about a specific student then the complaint needs to include the name of the child, the name of the school the child is attending, the nature of the problem of the child’s and a resolution to that problem.

After a complaint has been filed, within 15 calendar days of receiving notice of your due process complaint, and before the due process hearing begins, the school district must convene a meeting with you and members of the IEP Team who have specific knowledge of the facts identified in your due process complaint. The purpose of the meeting is for you to discuss your due process complaint, and the facts that form the basis of the complaint, so that the school district has the opportunity to resolve the dispute, prior to the hearing.

To address concerns of what may happen to your child when a complaint is filed, Rhode Island there has a “stay put” law.  Meaning if the parents have demanded a formal hearing the child stays in the last place that was agreed upon by all parties.  This is also the same if the parents have received notice that the school is trying to take the child off the special education program.

Are there options other than a hearing?



Yes. In Rhode Island, mediation is available to the parents and school districts as a means of dispute resolution. Mediation can be used regardless of whether you filed a complaint.  This is voluntary to all parties and needs to be conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator.

For additional information and assistance, contact the following agencies:

  • Rhode Island Department of Education

255 Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903

Phone: 222-4600

Website: http://www.ride.ri.gov/

  • Rhode Island Legal Services Educational Advocate

Veronika Kot, Esq.

Phone: 401-274-2652

  • Reference the Office of the Child Advocate’s Kids Rights Handbook
I am looking to become emancipated from my parents, how can I achieve this?

Most importantly, if the reason for seeking emancipation is due to abuse or neglect, please report this activity to the hotline at 1-800-RI-CHILD (1-800-742-4453). They can help! Also, Rhode Island does not currently have an emancipation statute. This means that emancipation from one’s parent is simply not an option.

As a parent, will the Office of the Child Advocate personally represent me for issues pertaining to my children?

No, the Office of the Child Advocate is an agency that provides assistance only to children within the custody and control of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. The Office of the Child Advocate does not represent the interests of parents in any matter. As a parent, if you are in need of legal representation you should hire a private attorney. If you are unable to afford one, please consider utilizing the following resources:

  • Rhode Island Legal Services:

Offices: 56 Pine Street, 4th Floor
 Providence, RI 02903
Phone: 401-274-2652
OR
Rhode Island Legal Services
50 Washington Square
Newport, RI 02840
Phone: 401-846-2264
Website:  http://www.rils.org/

  • Public Defender’s Office:

Main Office:
160 Pine Street
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401)222-3492
Fax: (401)222-5225
Website: http://www.ripd.org/