Children’s participation in complaints processes

2.153 Many complaints bodies in Australia investigate and handle complaints on federal, State and Territory issues. Statistics on children’s participation in these processes are limited. Those available show that children are rarely complainants.[364]

2.154 The Commonwealth Ombudsman handles complaints about federal agencies’ actions or inactions, including agencies with significant contact with children such as DSS, DEETYA, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) and the AFP.[365] There are no general statistics on child complainants. A ‘small but significant’ number of complaints to the Ombudsman in 1995-96 nonetheless concerned children who applied for homeless rates of DSS or DEETYA payments and the protocols between the Commonwealth and the State and Territory welfare departments regarding these applications.[366] In appointing special liaison officers for youth, the Ombudsman has sought to engender an appropriate child focus and to provide better avenues for children to make complaints.[367]

2.155 In Queensland, the Children’s Commissioner and Children’s Services Appeals Tribunal Act 1996 (Qld) established a complaints body and appeals process for children’s services, including services provided by the Department of Family Services, Youth and Community Care. Complaints about these services had previously been, and continue to be within the jurisdiction of the Queensland Ombudsman.[368] In 1995-96, the Ombudsman received 102 complaints about the Department of Family Services, Youth and Community Care, 67 about the Department of Education and 126 about police. Although the complainants were not identified by age or interest in the matter, ‘typical’ complaints were noted to be from parents or foster carers on behalf of children, with some also from ‘students’.[369]

2.156 The Office of the NSW Ombudsman informed the Inquiry that in 1996-97, it received 380 complaints and enquiries from ‘juveniles’. Approximately 47% of these concerned the police and 53% concerned other government departments.[370] The Community Services Commission handles complaints about the provision of community services, including care and protection services, in New South Wales. Most complaints to the Commission regarding children concern protection and substitute care services.[371] Children made up a very small percentage of those making complaints. In 1995-96, 2% of all complainants were under the age of 24 and 40% of all complaints on behalf of or concerning children were made by adults.[372]

2.157 The Victorian Ombudsman handles complaints on issues affecting children, such as care and protection, schools and police. In 1995-96, the 113 complaints concerning ‘education’ included some from students or their parents concerning tuition and examination results.[373] Of 71 complaints on care and protection issues, most if not all were from parents or groups representing parents.[374] An audit of the Victorian care and protection system found that, although many people who complained to the Department of Human Services and external agencies about the department’s care and protection services purported to represent children’s interests, no complaints or appeals were from children directly.[375]

2.158 According to the Western Australian Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (the Western Australian Ombudsman) children rarely initiate complaints to his office.[376] Complaints concerning government’s actions or inactions in relation to individual children are generally made by parents, relatives and others. A number of these complaints concern care and protection services. However, only nine of the 130 complaints made since 1990 in this area were made by the subject child and even then the complaints were not made until after these children had reached adulthood.[377] One complaint was received from a 12 year old child in 1995-96, regarding a Family Court custody order.[378] In 1995-96 the Ombudsman also received 49 complaints from parents and other adults regarding children’s education, usually about discipline matters in schools, and 23 of the 1 528 complaints about police concerned the treatment of children by police officers.[379]

2.159 In 1995-96, the South Australian Ombudsman received 65 complaints about the Department for Education and Children’s Services, approximately 35 of which could be identified as being about children or issues surrounding children’s treatment by schools.[380] It is unclear whether any of these were from the children themselves.[381] There were 79 complaints about the Department of Family and Community Services, most of which concerned children’s care or safety, access by parents or family members or the handling of cases by the department.[382] Again, it is not reported whether any of these complaints came directly from children.[383]

2.160 In Tasmania, the agency most often the subject of complaints to the Ombudsman was the Department of Community and Health Services, the agency that handles care and protection services. Of the 240 complaints about the department, approximately 23 could be identified as being about the department’s care and protection services in 1995-96.[384] A further 15 of the 41 complaints about the Department of Education, Community and Cultural Development could be identified as being about the treatment of children in schools.[385] Few, if any, of these complaints seemed to originate from children.[386]

2.161 The Northern Territory Ombudsman recorded at least one complaint made by a child. Several years ago the Ombudsman’s Alice Springs office handled a complaint from a 12 year old school boy, their youngest complainant to date.[387] The 33 complaints regarding the Territory Health Services, responsible for care and protection of children, the 30 complaints about the Department of Education and the 249 complaints about the Northern Territory Police made in 1995-96 did not note the age of the complainants.[388]

2.162 The various anti-discrimination bodies throughout Australia also receive a small number of complaints from young people. For example, the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales received 293 complaints about discriminatory practices based on age in 1995-96.[389] These were not classified by age but some of these complaints were from young people.[390]

2.163 Many federal, State and Territory consumer protection regimes involve tribunals or small claims courts. No statistics were available regarding the numbers of children in these legal processes. Until 31 December 1996, people complaining about false, misleading or inappropriate advertising could complain to the Advertising Standards Council. This body received an estimated two to three complaints each year identifiably from children.[391] Most complaints in the consumer protection area are received from adults about advertisements or products directed at children.[392]

[364] See ch 4 for a discussion of the barriers to children’s participation in these processes.

[365] In 1995-96, the Cth Ombudsman received 19 144 complaints, including 7 023 about DSS, 2 668 about DEETYA and 638 about DIMA. An additional 794 complaints were received about the AFP: Cth Ombudsman Annual Report 1995-96 Cth Ombudsman Canberra 1996, 49-50.

[366] id 64.

[367] id 32.

[368] Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (Qld) 22nd Annual Report 1995-96 Qld Government Printer Brisbane 1996, 30.

[369] id 10-12.

[370] NSW Ombudsman DRP Submission 80. For case studies on complaints regarding police treatment of children see also NSW Ombudsman Annual Report 1995-96 NSW Ombudsman Sydney 1996, 32-33, 34, 52, 55.

[371] NSW Community Service Commission IP Submission 211.

[372] ibid.

[373] Vic Ombudsman Annual Report 1995-96 Vic Ombudsman Melbourne 1996, 46, 80.

[374] id 37.

[375] Vic Auditor-General’s Office Protecting Victoria’s Children: The Role of the Department of Human Services Vic Government Printer Melbourne 1996, 345.

[376] Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (WA) IP Submission 41.

[377] ibid.

[378] ibid.

[379] Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (WA) Annual Report 1995-96 Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations Perth 1996, 27, 45.

[380] SA Ombudsman 24th Annual Report of the SA State Ombudsman 1995-96 SA Ombudsman Adelaide 1996, 97, 175-176.

[381] Many of the cases were reported as concerns about ‘son’, ‘daughter’ or ‘child’: ibid.

[382] id 103, 179-181.

[383] Many of the cases were reported as concerns about ‘son’, ‘daughter’ or ‘child’: id 179-181.

[384] Tas Ombudsman Annual Report 1995-96 Tas Government Printer Hobart 1996, 74-77.

[385] id 82-83.

[386] ibid. The majority of complaints regarding children were reported in terms of ‘son’, ‘daughter’, ‘children’ or ‘grandchild’.

[387] NT Ombudsman Annual Report 1995-96 Ombudsman’s Office Darwin 1996, 54.

[388] id 60-61, 123.

[389] Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW Annual Report 1995-96Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW Sydney 1996, 18.

[390] Anti-Discrimination Board of NSWIP Submission 60.

[391] Media Council of Australia IP Submission 42.

[392] ibid.