Steady increase in complaints

Special Report Increase in awareness of OCO complaints procedures has led to more being processed


+A critical role of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office is to handle complaints from people who believe that the rights of a child have not been met by a State body such as a school or hospital.

This is an empowering resource for children and families when dealing with a state body as they can be confident that their complaint will be investigated by a free, independent and impartial body. Complaints can be taken by children and young people, or by adults on their behalf. Over the last 10 years public knowledge of the OCO complaints procedure has grown, and with it the number of complaints lodged and investigated.

As result, the Office has been able to build a picture of how State services interact with children and where reform is needed. Intelligence gathered by the Office through its complaints function has led directly to changes in the way the State approaches child protection and is also feeding into reform in education and health services. In year one, the Ombudsman handled fewer than 100 complaints: the figure doubled or trebled year on year to reach the current annual total of 1,677 (2013). Cumulatively the body has dealt with 10,239 since its inception.

Education and health are the two main categories of complaints . In the early years health was the largest but by 2010 complaints about education bodies were the most frequent.

To date, 97 per cent of complaints have been made by adults on behalf of children, usually parents of the children involved (75 per cent). “Throughout the decade we have not had a conflict between parents’ rights and children’s rights,” says Nikki Gallagher, senior communications manager with the OCO . “Parents are consistently the primary advocates for their children.” Of the 3 per cent of complaints made directly by children, most were from teenagers in care.“We have done significant work making the complaints service accessible to children and young people and have worked with groups of children in care to develop accessible complaints materials. We also work closely with advocacy groups who work directly with children who need our services.”