What Is an Ombudsman?
Different Ombudsman Offices
In regard to special education services, an ombudsman helps in resolving disagreements and complaints from families about how a school or district is addressing a student’s needs. An educational ombudsman can assist parents with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), 504 Plan meetings, and the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. As stated by San Diego Unified School District, special education ombudspersons are “not parent advocates nor district decision-makers” but impartial members who typically help with the resolution of concerns at the school or district level.
The U.S. Department of Education has a list of all state ombudsman offices for non-public schools. California’s contact info is as follows:
Sylvia Hanna Ombudsman, California Department of Education SHanna@cde.ca.gov (916) 319-0948
As for public schools, some school districts have their own ombudsman. In California, those districts include San Diego, Oakland, Stockton, San Francisco, and Fresno Unified School Districts. Visit your school district website to find contact information for the ombuds connected to your school.
Regional Center and Self-Determination Program
According to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Office of the Self-Determination Program Ombudsperson helps Regional Center clients and Self-Determination participants. As described on their website, their goal is to “increase the number of people in the Self-Determination Program (SDP), reduce the amount of time it takes to enter SDP, and recommend policy change at Regional Centers and DDS.” Their contact info is as follows:
Office of the Self-Determination Program Ombudsperson Online contact form SDP.Ombudsperson@dds.ca.gov (877) 658-9731
Each state will have a different contact for complaints, questions, or disputes specific to insurance. If you’re in need of ensuring a fair appeal process, the California Department of Insurance Office of Ombudsman can be contacted here:
California Department of Insurance Office of the Ombudsman 300 Capitol Mall, Suite 1600 Sacramento, CA 95814 firstname.lastname@example.org (916) 492-3545
If Medi-Cal denies coverage for something your child needs, you are entitled to an appeal. The appeal process changes depending on whether you are enrolled in a managed care plan or fee-for-service (or “straight”) Medi-Cal:
- For straight Medi-Cal, the notice of action will typically include information on how to appeal. You can also contact your county office to file a formal complaint and request a Medi-Cal Fair Hearing. Remember: filing a complaint is different from requesting a third party to ensure a fair hearing.
- If you’re on a managed care plan, contact your plan’s customer service number. If this does not resolve the problem, you can file an appeal with your care plan. For assistance with this process, you can contact the Medi-Cal Managed Care and Mental Health Office of the Ombudsman.
The Foster Care Ombudsman offers an “independent forum for the review and resolution of complaints made by or on behalf of children in foster care regarding their care, placement, and services; it provides children and youth with information on their rights when placed in foster care.” To submit a concern or complaint, a child or adult can email or call the toll-free helpline at 1-877-846-1602 or email email@example.com.
How can the Office of Ombudsman help?
An ombuds office can help by:
- Responding to inquiries
- Informing and clarifying rights
- Investigating complaints
- Explaining policies and procedures
- Advocating for the fairness of the process (not an advocate for an individual party)
- Developing options and suggesting appropriate referrals
As stated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Office of Ombuds “may recommend changes in policies and procedures.” Note: recommending does not mean changing the rules, policies, or procedures. The Office “does not conduct formal investigations [and] does not change rules, policies, or procedures.”
When is the right time to get the Office of Ombudsman involved?
The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) Continuum offers a description of the processes that occur throughout the stages of conflict. An ombudsperson becomes involved in conflict after prevention and disagreement. If the dispute cannot be solved after disagreement, individuals have the options of facilitation, mediation, and the Office of Ombudsman. If the conflict continues, an ombudsperson can be present throughout procedural safeguards and legal review to ensure that both parties are equally understood.
Have any questions? Reach out and let us know!