Children play an important role in our hearts. National Child Day encourages us to reflect on the importance of fair treatment for families who may need extra assistance in providing a safe and healthy environment for their children to thrive.
Every Albertan has the right to complain to the Ombudsman if they believe they were treated unfairly when attempting to access a public service. Whether the unfairness stems from an important decision or a delay in service, the Ombudsman’s office considers each issue and works to overcome roadblocks towards a fair solution. A child or young person directly affected may file the complaint and be assisted by a guardian or advocate.
The Ombudsman regularly receives complaints that pertain to children and youth. We may hear from foster parents experiencing issues with licensing, young people subject to an unexpected disruption to their student funding, guardians of children aging out of foster care, as well as incarcerated youth. Some of the complaints are resolved at the early resolution stage of our process while others require a full investigation.
The Ombudsman also pursues change to systemic issues impacting children and youth. In March 2021, the Ombudsman released an own motion investigation report sparked by a complaint from a youth incarcerated in one of Alberta’s two young offender centres. The issue stemmed from the use of segregation to control behaviour and the Ombudsman’s findings aligned with several conclusions made on this topic by other provincial Ombudsman, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA), independent advisors, and segregation review committees across Canada. Namely, that processes related to the decision to place a young person in segregation must be made in accordance with clearly articulated policy and provincial legislation. The Ombudsman also expressed concern that there is no legislative basis for the use of segregation in young offenders centres in Alberta. At the time the report was released, the practice of segregating a young person was based solely on division and centre policy.
The number of agencies and services within the Ombudsman’s authority is extensive. To explore the possibilities, families may wish to visit the Ombudsman’s website or call to speak with an intake officer. Through the normal work week, callers are put through directly to intake but if the lines are busy, a callback will be received within one business day.
Before the Ombudsman can investigate, a complainant must first complete the complaint process with the agency that has denied the service. Advice on how to find these review processes may also be obtained from the Ombudsman’s intake officer.
Complaints can be registered in a variety of ways, including an online complaint form, email, fax, and regular mail. Feeling stuck or uncertain where to begin? Click on this link for a short video about how to get in contact with the Ombudsman’s office.
Agencies and programs within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction that might offer services to families with children and youth include: Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD); Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD), Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Income Support; Aids to Daily Living; Student Finance Board; Alberta Human Rights Commission; Workers Compensation Board; and the Patient Concerns Resolution Process of Alberta Health Services.
The roles of the Ombudsman and the Child and Young Advocate differ but both offices work to improve the lives of children and youth in Alberta. Additionally, both are offices are independent offices of the Alberta Legislative Assembly. OCYA exists primarily to advocate on behalf of children. The Ombudsman begins an investigation as a neutral third party. Confusion or uncertainty about the roles of the two offices should not stop anyone from contacting either office. Intake workers at both offices will sort out the respective jurisdictions and encourage resolution in the best interest of Albertans.
For more about the Ombudsman’s work and how the office ensures fairness for children and youth, please visit www.ombudsman.ab.ca or call toll free at 1.888.455.2756.
Article prepared by the Alberta Ombudsman’s publication team in collaboration with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.