In February, Attorney General Tim Fox announced that Traci Shinabarger has been hired to develop and implement the State’s new Child and Family Ombudsman Program. The program was created when the 2013 Legislature passed House Bill 76, which directed the Montana Department of Justice to establish the Child and Family Ombudsman Office.
Shinabarger is a licensed clinical social worker and board certified behavior analyst with expertise in child welfare and public affairs. Her clinical experience includes working with foster children and families in New York city as well as Montana. Most recently, Shinabarger was Behavior Analytic Residential Services Director for youths and adults with developmental disabilities at A.W.A.R.E., Inc. “Traci’ s education and experience with both child welfare and public affairs makes her uniquely suited for the responsibilities of the Ombudsman Office,” said Dana Toole, Chief of the Children’s Justice Bureau at the Montana Department of Justice. The Children’s Justice Bureau, which is part of the Department’s Division of Criminal Investigation, will manage the Child and Family Ombudsman Office, which will be located in Missoula.
Nearly one dozen states across the country have ombudsman programs specializing in child welfare systems. Montana’s new ombudsman program offers citizens concerned about child safety an opportunity to work with agencies and providers across the state who care for children at risk of abuse or neglect. Toole added, “Currently, the Ombudsman is organizing the office and preparing procedures to respond to concerns. We are building the program from the ground up, and expect to provide outreach and education to engage families and professionals across the state as we advocate for Montana’s at-risk children.”
The Child and Family Ombudsman Office will begin accepting requests for assistance in April. Shinabarger said, “It’s important to have the foundation of the program in solidly in place so we can provide accurate information. I’m looking forward to increasing the public’s knowledge about Montana’s child welfare system and resolving any issues they may bring forward.”