What Is an Ombudsman?

Article
Sep. 21, 2022Updated Sep. 21, 2022
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, an ombudsman (also known as an ombuds or ombudsperson) “works independently as an intermediary to provide individuals with a confidential avenue to address complaints and resolve issues at the lowest possible level.” An ombuds is a neutral participant that facilitates the process, so going to an ombuds office is different from filing for an appeal. They do not address the actual complaint; they are there to assist in the ease of the process.

Different Ombudsman Offices

Education

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.

Public Benefits

Each state will have a different contact point for resolving conflict with the specific public benefits. To find your state’s public benefits ombuds offices, go to your state website and search for complaints about public programs. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) will handle complaints about any public assistance programs. You can also file a formal complaint by writing or calling the department:

California Department of Social Services Public Inquiry and Response P.O. Box 944243 Sacramento, CA 94244-2430 (916) 651-8848 PIAR@dss.ca.gov

State that you want your problem to be handled as a "complaint" and give the reason for the complaint.

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

Insurance

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 ombudsman@insurance.ca.gov (916) 492-3545

Medi-Cal

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.

IHSS

The IHSS Ombuds offers help to families with issues that cannot be resolved by the Department of Public Social Services. The IHSS Ombuds differ in each county. You can find your specific IHSS County Ombuds by searching for the IHSS or Long-Term Care Ombudsman on your official county website.

Los Angeles County IHSS Ombudsman: (888) 678-4477 Hotline hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.—5 p.m., and assistance is available in both English and Spanish.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman: (800) 231-4024 This hotline is for issues regarding adults age 18 and older who live in board and care facilities and nursing facilities. There are no geographic restrictions.

Foster Care

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 fosteryouthhelp@dss.ca.gov.

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?

Tags:

Contents


Overview

Different Ombudsman Offices

How can the Office of Ombudsman help?

When is the right time to get the Office of Ombudsman involved?

Join the Undivided Community to get more resources like this in your inbox


Promise Image
Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
A Navigator is your Partner at each turn
Every Undivided Navigator has years of experience supporting families raising kids with disabilities or parenting their own. Partner with an Undivided Navigator for a free Kickstart to learn first hand what support feels like!
tick-icon
Identify near-term goals and priorities
tick-icon
Develop a vision for your child and family
tick-icon
Map out strategies to execute near- and long-term goals
“It’s so helpful to have one place that you can go to get many answers.”–Leeza Woodbury, with Navigator Kelly since 2020
*Currently offering Navigator Kickstarts to residents of California