Former East Baton Rouge Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Stewart Richey will be Louisiana’s first children’s ombudsman, a new position meant to serve as a watchdog for children who depend on government services ranging from foster care to juvenile prisons.
Richey will begin in the new role next week. Her appointment comes after a tumultuous year for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services and the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, as DCFS missed warnings about children who later died, while children in OJJ custody alleged abuse and mistreatment.
Those problems prompted the Legislature to create a new law this year creating a children’s ombudsman. The role is housed under the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office and the ombudsman is supposed to monitor agencies that serve children and recommend changes to state laws that will promote child welfare.
Louisiana has been a nationwide outlier without ombudsmen services for children; at least 38 other states have such positions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
One of the strongest pushes for the ombudsman came from Rick Wheat, president of Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services. His research shows that the five states ranked worst in the nation for child well-being all lack ombudsman services.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Michael Waguespack announced Richey’s appointment to the position Wednesday at the start of a Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing. The committee has been holding oversight hearings about DCFS over the past year.
“I don’t know if I’m excited or if I’m overwhelmed,” Richey told lawmakers when Waguespack introduced her.