Shelter-in-place restrictions placed during the COVID-19 pandemic do not mean that the child welfare professionals that work with you can stop communicating with you. Every young person should have the right to file a complaint or grievance for the purpose of their safety and welfare while in care.
What is a grievance?
A grievance is a way in which you can file a complaint about a disagreement of how your case is being handled, unfair treatment, or if you feel you have been victim to any violation of your rights.
What are examples of grievances?
Some states have enacted their own foster care Bill Of Rights. If your state has a Bill Of Rights, and any of those rights are violated, this would be a grievable offense.
Examples of grievances typically include:
You feel mistreated or unfairly treated by your case manager or foster family.
Your medical needs are not being met.
Your dental needs are not being met.
You do not have sibling contact or visitation.
Your personal basic needs are not being met. For example, you are not receiving hygiene products or services that are tailored to your individual needs.
Your basic needs are used as incentives. For example, you are having to earn hair and skin care products by good behavior.
Your case manager is not returning your calls and does not have regular contact with you.
You do not have access to your personal documentation. For example, if you are trying to find a job, and don't have your social security card for employment enrollment.
What is the grievance process?
There are five basic steps to solving a complaint or grievance.
1. Address your concern with your case manager. You can do this in a written email or letter, a phone call, or during a meeting.
2. Escalate your concerns to the case manager’s supervisor. If the problem continues, contact their supervisor and express your concerns. This can also be conducted via written communication or a phone call. If you do not have their contact information, you can contact the agency and request contact information for your supervisor.
3. Contact your county director. If the problem is not resolved, you may contact your county director. This can also be accomplished by email or phone call. Be sure to include any supporting information that exhibits your efforts to resolve with the case manager and their supervisor prior.
4. File a complaint at the Ombudsman office. If neither of the steps listed above promote action or resolution, you can contact your state ombudsman’s office and file a complaint with their office. You should only file a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office if you have exhausted all previous grievance proceedings, and the problem persists. However, if you do not feel comfortable going directly to your service agency in fear of backlash, and your rights have been violated by the agency or persons serving you, you can go to the Ombudsman.
5. Contact your state child welfare director. If you do not have a complaint office in your state, or have trouble accessing a grievance process, you can contact your state child welfare director.
Where do I find grievance forms?
Grievance process and form accessibility vary from state to state and agency to agency. Each agency has its own grievance procedure. It may be best to search your state's grievance process online, or speak with your case manager.
If you do not feel comfortable asking your case manager or do not have access to the internet, it may be best to reach out to your guardian ad litem (GAL), lawyer, or personal advocate to help you navigate these processes.
How do I fill it out?
Some agencies have forms that are downloadable with contact information at the bottom of each form. For example, Minnesota has grievance forms that are accessible online, and many forms in other states may look similar to this.
Will I get backlash?
It is common for youth to forgo voicing their concerns in fear of retaliation. If you have a trustworthy advocate or GAL, you may ask them to bring up the concern and grievance on your behalf
Should you not have someone who can do this for you, you should directly contact the Ombudsman office or office of complaints in your state.
You can find more information about this process and each office in this Children’s Bureau factsheet: From Complaint to Resolution.