Ombudsman’s Office for Child and Youth Welfare
I. About us
Launch of the Complaints Office for Child and Youth Welfare in Rhineland-Palatinate
On 1 May 2017, the complaints office for child and youth welfare was launched by the ombudsperson of the Rhineland-Palatinate Ombudsman’s Office. This institution of the Ombudsman’s Office has been firmly entrenched in the Rhineland-Palatinate parliament for 43 years and around 130,000 citizens have taken advantage of this opportunity. For years, these Ombudsman’s Offices have been discussed nationwide and are now being established throughout Germany. Rhineland-Palatinate has placed the task of a complaints office for child and youth welfare with the Ombudsman’s Office and is thus the second state with such an independent office. After the state elections in 2016, the SPD, FDP and Alliance 90/The Greens stipulated in the coalition agreement for the years 2016 to 2021:
“Establishment of an ombudspersonship for child and youth welfare services
Children, adolescents and their parents should be given the opportunity to easily access an independent institution, which organises a process of clarification and mediation. For us, this is also the consequence of coming to terms with the residential school system of the 50s and 60s of the last millennium. This task of the ombudspersonship will be part of the Rhineland-Palatinate Ombudsman’s Office. In a three-year model project, we want to check whether the structure is accepted and whether the intended goals – information, support and mediation in the context of child and youth welfare – have been achieved. If the pilot project proves successful, we will establish the structure permanently and amend the state law regarding the Ombudsman’s Office.”
The aim is to support those affected in securing their rights. Problems in child and youth welfare services that can lead to situations that make it very difficult or even impossible for persons entitled to care (those entitled to receive assistance in upbringing) and young adults to assert their entitlement to rights and benefits under the law. Two points in particular are supposed to be developed in the work of the Complaints and Ombudsman’s Office in Youth Welfare. Firstly, supporting those seeking advice in securing their rights when services are provided by a youth welfare office and secondly, during the provision of services by an independent youth welfare organisation.
The Complaints Office for Child and Youth Welfare is to advise young people and those entitled to benefits with regard to benefits that are based on legal entitlement under the Child and Youth Welfare Act and to act as a guide. This includes, in particular, educational assistance, integration assistance for psychologically challenged children and youths, assistance for young adults, aftercare, assistance in a shared living arrangement for mothers/fathers and children, as well as assistance in the context of youth social work. Full-time caregivers can also turn to the counselling centres.
The theoretical starting point of ombudspersonships is the power imbalance between young people/beneficiaries and the institutions of the youth welfare office and/or voluntary organisations. The commitment and professional action of ombudspersons aims at balancing this asymmetry with the available professional – and if necessary also legal – counselling
options. This partiality is aimed at this rebalancing and thus differs from legal representation in the sense of a legal mandate. The establishment of an independent complaints body for children and young people in youth welfare is one of the recommendations of the “Round Tables on Home Education and Child Sexual Abuse”.
The Round Table on Group Homes (2010) points to the additional establishment of independent complaint bodies for children and adolescents and notes that experience has shown that “internal complaint possibilities within the facilities are not available across the board” or that those being cared for do not use them. This can also be an effective additional instance for alleviating existing fears of contact, e.g. with the state youth welfare office.
Ombudspersons/independent complaints offices in child and youth welfare are also a topic in the 14th Report on Children and Youths (2013). The Commission is “of the opinion that access to such independent ombudsperson counselling and complaints offices for young people and their families in child and youth welfare should be opened up to a greater extent”. The Federal Government concurs with this in its statement.
The Federal Child Protection Act also obliges youth welfare offices to “develop quality in child and youth welfare” (Section 79a SGB VIII [German Social Code Book VIII]). Within this framework, they have to develop quality standards for safeguarding the rights of children and young people in facilities and for their protection against violence. Local youth welfare committees can also implement the introduction of an internal complaints procedure for young people and beneficiaries for their youth welfare office.
II. What is the goal of the Complaints and Ombudsman's Office in Child and Youth Welfare in Rhineland-Palatinate?
The Complaints and Ombudsman’s Office for children, adolescents and adults
-is meant to inform and advise those who need information on their rights under the German Social Code Book VIII, that is under Child and Youth Welfare Law,
-to inform and advise those who feel that that youth welfare office does not sufficiently advise and involve them,
-to represent their interests vis-à-vis the youth welfare offices, if this is desired,
-to be a point of contact for those who are not satisfied with the care provided by an independent youth welfare organisation and would like to complain in person.
-to help those who do not know who is responsible for their concerns in the child and youth welfare services.
For this purpose, the complaints office is meant to
-inform the aforementioned group of persons concerned about their rights,
-advise them about the possibilities of appealing against a decision they feel is unjust,
-jointly look for solutions on how to improve a situation and, if necessary, accompany them to appointments with the youth welfare office or an independent youth welfare organisation.
The objective is
-to inform young people about their rights to benefits under the Social Code Book VIII and their rights in the context of the provision of educational assistance,
-to support youth welfare offices and youth welfare facilities in improving their participation and complaint structures,
-to provide unbureaucratic support and assistance free of charge in cases of conflict
-to raise awareness of children’s rights, and
-to act as a lobby for children’s and young people’s rights in the context of educational assistance.