A Child Protective Services worker has been appointed to become West Virginia’s first foster care ombudsman, the Department of Health and Human Resources announced Monday.
Pamela M. Woodman-Kaehler, a CPS worker in Harrison County since 2015, was appointed by DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch on Monday. The position was created as part of legislation passed last spring to transition state foster care and adopted child services programs into a managed care system.
Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and an advocate for having an ombudsman to oversee the transition, said Monday he was encouraged to learn of Woodman-Kaehler’s appointment.
“I really thought highly of her work as coordinator for the Citizens’ Review Panel,” he said, referring to a federally mandated panel to oversee the state’s child welfare system overall.
Under the new law, the ombudsman is to:
- Advocate for the rights of foster children and foster parents.
- Participate in investigations of complaints by foster children or foster parents regarding inaction or questionable actions by providers of managed care services, or of social service agencies.
- Establish and maintain a statewide uniform reporting system to collect and analyze data relating to complaints.
- Monitor the development and implementation of federal, state and local legislation, regulations and policies regarding foster care services.
Hickman said the key to the success of the program will be if the ombudsman is allowed to operate truly independently of the DHHR.
“Based on her experience as coordinator of the Citizens’ Review Panel, I think she’s going to be very conscientious about it,” he said of Woodman-Kaehler.
Hickman said he doesn’t necessarily have issues with DHHR hiring from within to fill the ombudsman position.
“Having somebody familiar with the system and the challenges it presents could be a positive,” he said.
In addition to serving on the Citizens’ Review Panel, Woodman-Kaehler has been a foster parent since 2004, and has been a trainer for prospective foster and adoptive parents, DHHR spokeswoman Alison Alder said. Prior to joining the DHHR, Woodman-Kaehler had been executive director of medical equipment and supply companies in West Virginia, Wisconsin and Illinois.
“Pamela brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this important role,” Crouch said in a statement. “Her personal and professional history in child welfare has equipped her to be a strong advocate for West Virginia’s foster children and parents.”
Adler said the position of ombudsman is part of the DHHR’s Office of the Inspector General, helping assure its autonomy.
Under state law, the inspector general reports directly to the secretary of the DHHR, and the secretary and other DHHR staff members are prohibited from preventing or interfering in any investigation, inspection, evaluation or review by the office.
The position of ombudsman was amended into the legislation, in part, in response to critics of the proposal for the state to enter into a contract with a managed care provider to oversee services provided to foster children.
Woodman-Kaehler and her family are in the process of relocating to Charleston from Morgantown, Adler said.