About OCA

The Office of the Child Advocate serves as the oversight agency to the Department of Children, Youth and Families. DCYF is the sole child welfare agency for the state of Rhode Island. They consist of numerous departments including but not limited to, Child Protective Services, Licensing, the Family Service Unit, Developmental Disability Unit, Child Support Unit, Juvenile Corrections, Juvenile Probation, Legal Department, Intake Unit, Monitoring Unit, Central Referral Unit, Children’s Behavioral Health Unit and the Contract Compliance Unit. The Office of the Child Advocate is responsible for monitoring the operation of each unit within the Department and must ensure their compliance with internal policies and protocols, state law and federal law. In addition, the OCA must continue to monitor overall issues and trends to ensure that each of these units are operating within the best practices of child welfare and to inform whether any systemic change is needed and necessary. This responsibility includes providing oversight to all employees and outside service providers, sub-contracted through DCYF.

Furthermore, the Office of the Child Advocate monitors each child open to DCYF, to protect the legal rights of children in State care and to promote policies and practices which ensure that children are safe, that children have permanent and stable families, and that children in out of home placements have their physical, mental, medical, educational, emotional, and behavioral needs met. The OCA has the right to meet with and speak to any child, regardless of their current placement, if the child is open to the Department. The OCA also has the right to intervene in any case to ensure that proper steps are being taken to secure the child’s health and safety. In addition, the OCA is responsible for monitoring each facility licensed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families in the State of Rhode Island including foster homes, day care providers, residential programs, out-of-state placement facilities and the Training School.

Our Mission Statement

The mission of the Office of the Child Advocate is to protect the legal rights of children in State care and to promote policies and practices which ensure that children are safe, that children have permanent and stable families, and that children in out of home placements have their physical, mental, medical, educational, emotional, and behavioral needs met.

OCA Role and Responsibilities

In compliance with our statutory mandate the OCA carries out the aforementioned responsibilities through the following mechanisms:

  • Litigation:
    The Office is empowered to initiate litigation on behalf of children in state care, including litigation naming other state agencies as defendants. The OCA also has the right to intervene in any petition presently before the Family Court involving a child who is open to the Department.
  • Site Reviews:
    The Office monitors all facilities licensed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families including group homes, day cares and foster homes to ensure that they are in compliance with R.I. Licensing Regulations. The OCA staff conduct thorough reviews and author reports for each review. The OCA provides a copy of each of these reports to the program and DCYF Licensing with a detailed corrective action plan to ensure that any necessary changes are implemented. Additionally, the Department of Children, Youth and Families has entered into contracts with service providers, outlining what services they provide to youth in their care. We have incorporated a contract compliance review as part of our process. The OCA also assesses the quality of programs, interviews children and intervenes on the case of any child where issues may have been presented. The OCA has also been actively engaged in the process of expanding and improving the current service array for children and families in Rhode Island.
  • Independent Investigations:
    The OCA verifies any report of institutional abuse, and recommends corrective actions to be taken. In addition, the Office of the Child Advocate may initiate an independent investigation, into any matter involving a child open to the Department or involving a facility licensed by the Department. The OCA also complete Court ordered investigations pertaining to children in the care of DCYF.
  • Inquiries:
    Each day the OCA receives calls from a variety of sources including but not limited to, providers, police departments, school departments, teachers, social workers, nurses, medical providers, outside attorneys, Judges, and parents. These calls involve a variety of topics and each call is processed or handled differently. The response can range from providing information, independent investigations, authoring of reports and legal intervention.
  • Serving as Guardian ad litem to youth open to DCYF:
    The Office of the Child Advocate serves as Guardian ad litem (GAL) to youth who are open to the Department by and through voluntary placement agreements. These are children with significant mental health diagnoses and/or developmental disabilities. As GAL, the OCA attends treatment meetings, IEP meetings and Court hearings on behalf of the child. The OCA must work with the Department and services providers to ensure that the needs of the child are being met. In addition, the OCA authors detailed reports for the Family Court to update the Court on the child’s case and make important recommendations with respect to the child’s care. Presently, the OCA serves as Guardian ad litem to approximately sixty (60) children.
  • Victim Compensation Program:
    The OCA is the administrator for the Victim Compensation Program for children under the age of 21. The office assists children who have been the victim of abuse secure financial assistance to access necessary services. In 2017, this role was expanded upon and the OCA is now responsible to file claims and assist families when their child has witnessed domestic violence or have been identified as a victim of sex trafficking. For the youth identified has victims of sex trafficking, the OCA has collaborated with local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, DCYF and local service providers to ensure that each youth are safe and provided with appropriate plans and services. The OCA will continue to increase public education and outreach regarding this program.
  • Policy Change:
    The OCA is tasked with monitoring trends in our child welfare system to inform on potential policy change. The OCA actively advises on proposed DCYF policy changes to ensure that the changes are in the best interest of children.
  • Public Hearings, Studies and Reports:
    The Office of the Child Advocate has the ability to convene public hearings and conduct studies which are released as public reports to better inform on trends, policy change, legislative reform or areas in need of large scale systemic reform.
  • Child Fatality Reviews:
    In July 2016, Governor Gina Raimondo expanded the statutory authority of the Office of the Child Advocate when she signed a law mandating the review of any child fatality or near fatality in the following circumstances: 1) when the child was in the care and custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families or the child’s family had recent contact with the Department of Children, Youth and Families; 2) when a sibling, household member, or day care provider has been the subject of a child abuse and neglect investigation within the previous twelve (12) months; or 3) if the fatality or near fatality was the result of abuse and/or neglect. The Office is then responsible for authoring a comprehensive public report because of countless hours of investigation, research, review and discussion of the cases, policies, statutes and other relevant materials. Upon completing this extensive review, the Child Fatality Review Panel composes recommendations with the intent of effectuating systemic change necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of all children involved with the Department.
  • Legislative Advocacy:
    The OCA is empowered to promote necessary systemic change through legislative advocacy. The Office of the Child Advocate has the authority to draft and propose legislation deemed necessary to better the lives of children in the state of Rhode Island. Additionally, we frequently provide testimony regarding all legislation affecting children.
  • Public Education and Outreach:
    The OCA staff have participated in numerous speaking engagements to raise awareness regarding the role of our office and how we can assist children in state care. We have participated in speaking engagements with police departments, school departments and community service providers. In addition, we have also spread awareness in the community on how individuals can help and get involved. We have formed connections with local schools and organizations who have performed community services projects to benefit children in state care.
  • Statewide Committees:
    The staff of the OCA actively advises on a number of committees including but not limited to, the Children’s Cabinet, the Multi-Disciplinary Team for the Hasbro Aubin Center; the Critical Death Review for the Department of Health; JDAI; Kid’s Count Policy Workgroups; Human Trafficking Task Force; Child Care Commission; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. The OCA staff welcome any opportunity to be a member of a committee to help effectuate change on behalf of children in Rhode Island.
  • Philanthropic Initiatives:
    The OCA has started to engage in more philanthropy work to better the quality of life and enhance the experiences children in state care receive. In August 2016 and 2017, the OCA in partnership with Adoption Rhode Island and Attorney Lise Iwon, organized the Annual Duffle Bag Bash. At this event, we were able to collect thousands of bags, countless gift cards and cash donations, which were provided to children in state care. The gift cards were provided to assist children with obtaining necessary clothing, personal hygiene products and school supplies. The OCA plans to organize additional events such as these to better the lives of children in state care and provide them with experiences and opportunities they are presently deprived of.
  • Federal Monitor to the Children’s Rights Lawsuit:
    In 2017, the Office of the Child Advocate was named as the Federal Monitor for the Children’s Rights Lawsuit. The OCA will monitor the Department of Children, Youth and Families’ compliance with the settlement and report on all benchmarks to the RI Federal Court.

Meet the OCA Staff

The Child Advocate
Jennifer Griffith, Esquire

Jennifer Griffith was appointed by Governor Gina Raimondo on March 17, 2016 and received the advice and consent of the Rhode Island State Senate on April 7, 2016 for a five-year term as the Child Advocate for the State of Rhode Island. She is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and Roger Williams School of Law. She is admitted to practice law in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and the United States Federal District Court of Rhode Island. Previously, she was a staff attorney at Rhode Island Legal Services for ten years handling all family law matters. She is a member of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association, the Executive Board of the Rhode Island Family Inn of Court, the Rhode Island Family Court Bench Bar Committee, the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet, the Rhode Island Child Care Commission, the Rhode Island Child Support Advisory Committee, the Human Trafficking Task Force and the Rhode Island Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.

Assistant Child Advocate
Katelyn Medeiros, Esquire

Katelyn has worked as the Staff Attorney III for the Office of The Child Advocate since May 2014. In February 2017, Ms. Medeiros was promoted to serve as the Assistant Child Advocate. Ms. Medeiros graduated summa cum laude from Rhode Island College in 2010 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Justice Studies and Sociology. She then pursued her Juris Doctorate at Roger Williams School of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 2013. In addition, she was a member of the Roger Williams School of the Law Honors Program. She was admitted to the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Bar in November 2013 and the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island in 2014. Ms. Medeiros first worked for the OCA from 2012-2013 as a Rule 9 Intern. She worked in private practice prior to her career with the OCA. Katelyn currently serves as a member of the Human Trafficking Task Force, the OCA Advisory Committee and the OCA Child Fatality Review Panel. Also, Ms. Medeiros serves as the program director for Project Victim Services for the Office of The Child Advocate, providing assistance to children who have been victims of abuse, trafficking or witnesses to domestic violence.

Staff Attorney III
Diana Robbins, Esquire

Ms. Robbins joined the OCA staff in May 2017 as the Staff Attorney and the Case Manager of the child victim compensation cases. She received her Bachelor of Arts & Sciences Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Ms. Robbins graduated cum laude from Roger Williams School of Law with her Juris Doctor in 2014. She was a member of Roger Williams School of Law’s Mediation Clinic. In addition, she worked for Rhode Island Legal Services for their Family Preservation project as a Rule 9 Intern and then as a volunteer Staff Attorney. She was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar and the Massachusetts Bar in 2014. Prior to joining the OCA, Ms. Robbins was a Staff Attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services in their Children and Family Law Division.

Special Projects Coordinator
Kathryn R. Cortes

Kathryn Cortes has been with the Office of The Child Advocate (OCA) since 2007. Kathryn is currently the Special Projects Coordinator and is a certified Child Forensic Interviewer (FI). Kathryn previously served as a Senior Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist in the OCA from 2013-2017 until being promoted. Kathryn also served as the Chief Field Investigator for the OCA from 2007-2013, prior to being promoted. Kathryn has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice/Juvenile Justice from Salve Regina University located in Newport, RI. Prior to joining the OCA staff in 2007, Kathryn began working as a Senior Residential Counselor in 1997 at Child and Family Services of Newport County in Newport RI. There, Kathryn worked to maintain a safe and therapeutic living environment for boys ages 6 through 12, which provided a structured program that promoted daily life skills, mental health services, and educational skills for the boys. Following her six (6) years at Child and Family Services, Kathryn moved onto Civigenics, Inc. in Marlborough, MA where she spent four (4) years as the Program Director of a therapeutic milieu program located in the Rhode Island Training School for Youth (RITS). Kathryn remains an involved member of both the professional and personal community in RI. Her activities and volunteer positions include: serving as a Member of the Rhode Island Child Death Review Team, Member of the LGBTQQ Youth Committee, Executive Board Member of the RI Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Member of the JDAI Multidisciplinary Team at Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Aubin Child Protection Center and acts as the Legislative Field Advocate for AFSP. Kathryn is also very involved with the Smithfield High School Football team, where her son currently plays.

Senior Planning and Program Development Specialist
Jacqueline Sanchez

Jacqueline Sanchez is currently the Senior Planning & Program Development Specialist at the Office of The Child Advocate (OCA). Jaqueline has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College. Prior to joining the OCA staff in 2017, Jacqueline worked as a Juvenile Program Worker (JPW) at the Rhode Island Training School for Youth (RITS) from 2007-2017. There, Jaqueline worked to provide the custody, supervision and security of detained youths, including assisting in the rehabilitation, education, treatment, care and control of the residents. Jacqueline is serving as a Member of the Rhode Island Child Death Review Team, a Member of the Human Trafficking Task Force, and a Member of the Multi-Disciplinary Team at Hasbro Children’s Hospital/Aubin Child Protection Center. Jacqueline recently received her certification of Forensic Interviewing of Children in July 2017.

Confidential Secretary
Amy Lynch

Mrs. Lynch joined the Office of The Child Advocate in November 2017. Amy received her Bachelors of Arts Degree in Communications from Rhode Island College in 1998. After graduation Amy was a Senior Residential Counselor/Case Manager in a group home for boys for over five years. Prior to coming to the OCA, Amy was a manager at a salon for the past twelve years. There she attended conferences on management. Mrs. Lynch is involved with her community, volunteering at her children’s schools and sporting events.

Staff


Jennifer Griffith, Esq.
Child Advocate
Katelyn E. Medeiros, Esq.
Assistant Child Advocate
Diana Robbins, Esq.
Staff Attorney III
Kathryn R. Cortes
Special Projects Coordinator
Jaqueline Sanchez
Sr. Planning & Program Development Specialist
Amy Lynch
Confidential Secretary
Phone: (401) 462-4311
Fax: (401) 462-4305

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