Under the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, the Ombudsman for Children has obligations to consult children and young people and to highlight issues relating to children’s rights and welfare that are of concern to children and young people themselves.
Since the OCO was set up in 2004, much of our work has focused on hearing children and young people’s views and highlighting their concerns. The experiences, views and ideas of children and young people we have engaged with have informed and influenced our own work as well as developments in a range of areas affecting children and young people’s lives.
Children and young people played a vital role in the OCO’s development. Between 2004 and 2009, members of our two Youth Advisory Panels (YAP) made important contributions to different areas of our work. In 2007 we conducted what proved to be the largest consultation with children and young people ever to have taken place in Ireland. With the assistance of over 560 schools and education centres nationwide, almost 75,000 children and young people voted in the Big Ballot and, in so doing, told us what issues were important to them. The area of family and care received the most votes and this result informed our decision to include the rights and welfare of children in the care of the State among our priorities.
The OCO has consulted children and young people for their views on a range of issues. For example:
- We undertook a consultation with children and young people in 2012 to hear their views on how bullying in schools might best be dealt with. We published their opinions and ideas in a report, which subsequently informed the Action Plan on Bullying and the Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools published by the Department of Education and Skills in 2013.
- In advance of the 2012 referendum to strengthen children’s rights in the Constitution, the OCO held The Big Debate in order to hear and highlight young people’s views on the proposed amendment.
- We sought children and young people’s opinions on juvenile justice and children’s healthcare, feeding their views and ideas into European-wide consultations focused on facilitating children to contribute to the development of the Council of Europe’s Guidelines on Child-Friendly Justice (2010) and on Child-Friendly Healthcare (2011).
We have also worked directly with children and young people whose voices are seldom heard:
- young people with experience of homelessness
- young people detained in St Patrick’s Institution
- separated children seeking asylum
For each of these initiatives, we published a report and materials that highlighted young people’s experiences and views. We engaged in follow up work so that young people’s perspectives, and our corresponding recommendations, would inform and influence public policy-making concerning young people in these circumstances.