The OCA provides independent oversight of state services for children in order to ensure that children receive appropriate, timely and quality services, with a particular focus on ensuring that the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and at-risk children have the opportunity to thrive. Through collaboration with public and private stakeholders, the OCA identifies gaps in state services and recommends improvements in policy and practice. The OCA also serves as a resource for families who are receiving, or are eligible to receive, services from the Commonwealth.
How We Accomplish Our Mission:
• Promoting child and family well-being
• Overseeing and monitoring the services delivered by child-serving state agencies
• Improving the collection, use, and transparency of state agency data
• Identifying gaps in and concerns with how state agencies and systems serve at-risk children, and recommending and advocating for solutions, including changes to improve coordination across agencies
• Advising on and leading efforts for systemic change in policies, programs, and practices affecting vulnerable and at-risk children
• Serving as an ombudsperson, including providing information and referral support, for families who are receiving, or are eligible to receive, services from the Commonwealth.
Operating a Complaint Line
Anyone – including families, guardians, advocates, attorneys, and children themselves -- with concerns about a child or youth who is receiving state services or who is eligible to receive state services can contact the OCA Complaint Line to seek information or to make a complaint. State services are services that are provided directly by a state agency or services that are funded by a state agency. Some examples of state services are foster care, other out-of-home placement including residential treatment programs and juvenile detention, behavioral health services, planning for transition aged youth, and some child care providers. OCA staff will listen to the concerns and provide resources, information, and other options to help address the problem. The OCA tracks and analyzes the complaints we receive to inform our inter-agency work and our recommendations to improve services for children.
Reviewing Critical Incident Reports
When a child receiving services from an executive branch state agency dies, is seriously injured, or experiences an emotional injury (e.g. witnessing an overdose), the agency involved is required to report the critical incident to the OCA. Our staff carefully review each critical incident report and, in many instances, follow-up with the agency to learn more about the situation and, as appropriate, provide recommendations for improvement of state agency policy, procedure, or case practice. Depending on the circumstances of a case, we may launch an in-depth investigation which may culminate in a public report with recommendations for needed changes in policy, practice, or law to help keep the children of the Commonwealth safe and to promote their well-being.
Receiving Reports of Abuse and Neglect in Out-of-Home Settings
The OCA receives reports that have been investigated and supported by DCF regarding abuse and neglect of children in out-of-home settings connected to certain state agencies. These out-of-home settings include (but aren’t limited to) foster care, congregate care programs, childcare facilities, public and private schools, after-school and summer programs, school-funded transportation companies, and hospitals. OCA staff review every report to evaluate the safety and wellbeing of the child(ren) involved and the quality of the DCF investigation. We also identify trends and patterns in out-of-home settings to identify and respond to systemic and cross-agency issues. When necessary, the OCA provides policy, practice, and case-specific feedback to the relevant state agencies involved, including licensing agencies.
Chairing and/or Participating in State Commissions Related to Child & Youth Safety and Wellbeing
The OCA serves as chair of a number of permanent and temporary state Boards, Commissions, Tasks Forces and Working Groups focused on issues related to child and youth safety and wellbeing. Current commissions chaired or co-chaired by the OCA which are statutorily mandated include the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board, the Childhood Trauma Task Force, and the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force. Other recent groups chaired by the OCA include the Mandated Reporter Commission and the Child Welfare Data Work Group. We also sit on a number of state boards and commissions, including the Children’s Trust, the Family and Child Requiring Assistance Advisory Board, and the Restraint and Seclusion Initiative.
Making Recommendations to State Government Leaders on Needed Improvements in Services for Children and their Families
The OCA is charged with examining, on a system-wide basis, the care and services that executive agencies provide children and with making recommendations to improve the quality of those services to give each child the opportunity to live a full and productive life. We fulfill this function on a daily basis in a variety of ways, including conducting quantitative and qualitative research, communicating directly with executive and legislative branch leadership, advocating for statutory and budget changes, and issuing policy reports.
Partnering with State Agencies to Improve Service Quality
The OCA works, in partnership with state agencies, to ensure children and youth – particularly those served by the child welfare or juvenile justice systems – are provided with the highest quality of services and supports. In addition to our research and advocacy work, we also incubate innovative new programs and services designed to improve the quality of state services. These new programs and services are designed with other state entities and are often operated in partnership with those state entities. When choosing pilot projects, we prioritize projects that cut across state agencies or branches of government, and that require multiple voices at the table to design, launch, monitor, evaluate and continuously improve.
We focus on projects that are innovative - grounded in research and designed to test new approaches to long-standing challenges – and ones where the OCA’s unique position in state government as a convener of multiple voices, research hub, and independent advocate for the needs of the Commonwealth’s children can help contribute to the overall success of the initiative. A few examples of this work in recent years include our partnership with the Department of Youth Services to launch a set of Diversion Learning Labs, our work with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and a variety of state agencies to launch a Transition Age Youth pilot, and the launch of the Center on Child Wellbeing and Trauma with UMass Chan Medical School.