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Anyone can make a complaint to us provided it is about a service in the Republic of Ireland. We accept complaints from children and young people under the age of 18, and also from adults on children’s behalf. Most of our complaints come from parents but people working with children such as residential care staff, social workers, teachers and others also contact us on behalf of children.
Whenever you have a concern, the first step is to talk to the service concerned. Talk to the person that you were dealing with or ask to see the manager. Keep a note of dates, who you spoke to and what they say will happen next.
If you’re not happy after this, the next step is to make a formal complaint to the organisation. It’s best to do this in writing so that you can keep a record. Make sure that you mention that you are writing under the complaints procedure. Make your explanation of what happened as short and clear as possible. Focus on the main issues and leave out irrelevant details. It is also helpful for you to outline what outcome you want. For example, this might be an apology or an explanation of what happened. It can take a while to sort out complaints so it’s useful to keep copies of letters you write so that you can remember later.
It’s important that the service that you are complaining about has a chance to put things right before you contact us. Our experience is that complaints are best dealt with locally and quickly. This is called local resolution and is something that we encourage. However, if you are still not happy after this, then it may be time to contact us.
The Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 sets out the framework for our complaints work. Under this law, we provide a free and impartial complaints service. Our role is to see if a public body’s administrative actions have had an adverse effect on a child or children. In other words, we aim to see if a public body’s administration is effective or whether maladministration has occurred. Maladministration is not defined in our legislation but it basically means when things go wrong.
The first thing we do when we get a complaint is to see if we can look at it. We review information provided to see if the issue or complaint is within our remit. The Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 was amended in 2012 and brought over 180 additional public service providers under our remit. We may be able to look at a complaint about a service provider not included in the list of reviewable agencies if it is state funded.
We know that complaints processes can be confusing. Therefore, giving people information about the right agency to deal with their complaint is an important aspect of our work and we try to do this as quickly as possible.
Sometimes complaints come too us too early and we encourage complainants to go back to the public body so that they can complete the local complaints process and resolve the issue if possible. This is called local resolution giving the public body an opportunity to fix things without the need for us to become further involved.
There are three stages in our complaints and investigation process:
- Preliminary examination
- Proposal to investigate
1. Preliminary examination
We gather information from the complainant and the public body to help us to understand the complaint better. We review information provided and decide whether the issue can be resolved or if we need to look at the complaint further. In line with best practice, most of our complaints are resolved at this stage. However, where this is not possible or when we are not satisfied with the public body’s response we proceed to the next step.
2. Proposal to investigate
We write to the public body and advise them that we remain concerned that there may be a link between their administrative actions and adverse effect on a child. We draft terms of reference and notify the public body of potential areas for investigation. We keep in touch with complainants throughout this process.
We ask the public body for a response to our proposal to investigate. When we receive this response we decide whether we should continue to a full investigation. If there is no case to answer, or if the issue has already been resolved, we will not go any further.
This is the final stage in our complaints process. We only reach investigation stage if the issue could not be resolved directly and if we think that a child may have been negatively affected by something that has gone wrong.
We ask the public body to provide files and documentation. Our way of working is described as inquisitorial where we gather as much information as we need to understand the complaint. We review information and interview relevant people including parents, representatives from public bodies and children as appropriate.
When we have analysed the information, we write an investigation report setting out our view whether or not the child was adversely affected by the actions or inactions of the public body or bodies.
If we believe that there was a link between the public body’s actions and adverse effect on the child or children, we make recommendations so that the public body can fix things or put things right.
The easiest way to make a complaint is to fill out our complaint form online here. We have designed the form so that it covers the information we need to know. For example, we need to know what service or organisation the complaint is about and how what has happened has affected the child or children concerned. The complaint form gives us a good idea about what your complaint is about and if we need more information we’ll ask for it.
You can print off a copy of the complaint form and post it to us at the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, Millennium House, 52-56 Great Strand Street, Dublin 1.
If you want to speak to one of our caseworkers, you can ring us on our Freephone 1800 20 20 40 and they will go through the form with you or send you one.