The New South Wales Ombudsman’s Office recently launched the “Complaint Handling Guide for Children: Upholding the Rights of Children and Young People” for the National Office for Child Safety. The Guide was informed by findings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which indicated the failings of institutions and organisations in responding to complaints of child sexual abuse. The Guide aims to engage young children so that they are actively involved in the decisions which affect them, in order to encourage children to voice their concerns when something is wrong.
Principle 6 of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations states that organisations should have a system and process to respond to child-related complaints in order to preserve the rights of children and young people. Therefore, any organisation that has dealings with children is obliged to respond suitably to complaints that affect children.
Accordingly, a recurring topic throughout the Guide is ensuring the rights and wellbeing of children involved are upheld throughout the complaint process. The Guide states that the term ‘complaint’ should be given a broad interpretation, and can involve expressions of dissatisfaction about an organisation’s services or dealings, staff conduct, or the handling of a prior concern, among other issues. Complaints can be both initiated by a child or by an adult acting on a child’s behalf, with or without their knowledge.
The Guide is designed for an extensive audience, from small organisations working with children (such as sports clubs) to large government agencies who have dealings with children. It offers advice to organisations on handling various complaints relating to child safety. Such complaints can range from customer service issues impacting children to more serious complaints such as abuse by staff, volunteers or other children receiving services.
The Guide is made up of nine guidelines which each address fundamental aspects of a successful complaint-handling system and process. The Guidelines are as follows:
- Embedding children’s rights, safety and wellbeing into the complaints process;
- Reporting responsibilities;
- Sharing information and communicating with stakeholders;
- Confidentiality and privacy;
- Managing risks – complaints and incidents;
- Conducting investigations involving children and young people;
- Being fair and objective;
- Explaining outcomes and review options; and
- Record keeping and complaints data.
If organisations facing child-related complaints effectively implement the Guide into their response process, it is hoped they will be in a better position to uphold the wellbeing and interests of all parties involved.