Kathleen Stewart Richey, an esteemed legal professional and former Executive Director of the Louisiana Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, has been named Louisiana's first State Child Ombudsman. Her appointment arrives at a crucial juncture for child welfare in Louisiana.
The Office of the State Child Ombudsman
The creation of the Office of the State Child Ombudsman comes in response to significant challenges plaguing Louisiana's child welfare systems. Senate Bill 137 received unanimous approval from Louisiana lawmakers and was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards on June 12th. This legislative decision follows a series of controversies affecting the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ).
The Ombudsman’s office aims to serve as an independent third party, monitoring agencies that interact with children and making legislative recommendations. Legislators wisely situated the ombudsman under the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s purview to maintain independence. The position has an allocated budget of $293,877, which is expected to be transferred to the Legislative Auditor's office.
Who is Kathleen Richey?
Kathleen Richey's professional journey has been both extensive and impactful. She launched her career as an attorney focused on child dependency and delinquency issues. In 1991, Richey became the first Juvenile Judge in East Baton Rouge Parish, where she was instrumental in establishing the Capital Area CASA Program.
Over her 24-year judicial career, Richey received multiple honors and appointments. These include being named Louisiana CASA Judge of the Year in 1997 and serving on numerous legislative task forces and advisory boards. As an experienced trainer for national and state judicial organizations, Richey brings a wealth of knowledge to her new role.
Implications for Child Welfare in Louisiana
As the State Child Ombudsman, Richey will be entrusted with the responsibility of investigating complaints and recommending systemic changes. She will also be required to present annual reports to the Legislature and biennial reports concerning conditions for children in detention facilities.
Kathleen Richey’s appointment symbolizes a decisive step forward in Louisiana’s quest to improve child welfare. Her history of advocacy and judicial expertise positions her uniquely to drive meaningful change. It is a milestone that represents the state's commitment to greater accountability and improved conditions for its youngest and most vulnerable citizens, while also reinforcing the vital role of organizations like CASA in this ecosystem.