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Summary
Contact Information
Office Size and Structure
History of the Office 
Austrian Report for the Annual Meeting of ENOC
Office activities, cooperation with Government, Parliament, NGOs and Children
Positive changes for children and young persons in Austria
Legal changes concerning children and young persons in Austria

SUMMARY
In Austria the Federal Children’s Ombudsman was established through child welfare legislation – the Federal Youth Welfare Act, 1989. A system of local ombudsman offices was called for, and over the period 1989-1995, ombudsmen were established in all nine provinces (Länder). Today, each of the nine Länder have an Ombudsman for Children and Youth. Their structure, financial resources, responsibilities and functions differ from province to province, but they are all independent governmental institutions and the ombudsmen are free from any interference from politicians and officials based on a special constitutional privilege. They are appointed by the State Government, after an open application and public hearing process, and work in accordance with legal guidelines set up by the Federal Youth Welfare Law.

The Ombudsmen have a broad remit to do individual casework, as well as to promote children’s rights at the broader policy level. The Ombudsmen are charged with the defence of children’s interests within the framework of judicial and administrative procedures and the promotion of public awareness of children’s welfare and interests through the media and public debate. The Ombudsmen collaborate in reviewing pertinent bills and draft regulations concerning the situation of children and youth.

CONTACT INFORMATION
Name of Office (In National Language) Kinder & JugendAnwaltschaft des Bundes
Name of Office (In English) Federal Children’s Ombudsman
Postal Address Kinder- Jugendanwaltschaft des Bundes
Bundesministerium für Soziale Sicherheit, Generationen und Konsumentenschutz
Franz-Josef-Kai 51
A-1010 Wien
Telephone + 43 1 71100 - 3269
Fax +43 1 7189470 - 1884
Email address martina.staffe@bmsg.gv.at
WWW None
Title of Ombudsman Kinder&JugenAnwalt (Leiter)
Name of Ombudsman Mag. Martina Staffe
Name of contact person for ENOC Mag. Martina Staffe
OFFICE SIZE AND STRUCTURE
Number of staff members 1 (2)
List of staff members and functions
Mag. Martina Staffe
Mag. Gundula Syouni
Franz Macho
Ombudswoman for Children and Youth head
Lawyer
Secretary (unofficial-normally he is working in the office of youth welfare)
Summary of annual Budget None
Principal sources of funding None
HISTORY OF THE OFFICE
Date the office was established 1991
Austrian Report for the Annual Meeting of ENOC
(Paris, October 2001)
Office activities, cooperation with Government, Parliament, NGOs and Children
Between 1989 and 1995 ombudsoffices for children and youth were set up in all nine Austrian States. In addition to the nine local offices, a federal Children's Ombudsperson was established in 1991. The legal principles are laid down in the Federal and Provincial Child Welfare Legislation. The offices are funded by public money.
The ten ombudspersons are also the heads of their local offices. They are supported by approximately 20 staff members (some of them part-time), lawyers, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers. Therefore, approximately 30 people are working on these issues for children in Austria!

The ombudspersons are appointed by the provincial governments. They are free from any interference from politicians and officials by virtue of a special constitutional privilege. In most states, the term of office ends after five years with the possibility of reappointment (in 2000, three ombudspersons were not nominated for a second term).

The connection between financial or employer dependence on the one hand, and independence in terms of contents on the other, always makes political positioning a difficult issue.

The offices have to submit an annual report about their activities and experiences to the provincial governments.

The cooperation with provincial governments and parliament is correct, but of course not all our ideas, concepts, suggestions and appeals are heard and realised (see above).

The relationship with the NGOs in Austria is very good and constructive. There are a lot of common projects like the annual celebration of the "day of the child" and joint efforts to make Children's Rights a more popular issue. Some NGOs and the ombusoffices were involved in the Austrian Report of the National Coalition for the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (see above).

In particular, the child and youth ombudsoffices are determined to promote or demand the cooperation with social workers, the youth welfare agencies of the provinces, because these often only act as an "administration" of children and to not really defend the interests of children (e.g. foster children, assignment to a home, right of access, ...)

All the ombudsoffices in Austria maintain direct contact with children and young people, whether they come to the office personally, call, write letters or e-mails.

We provide information and give advice, we mediate between them and the parents or other professionals. We try to represent their interests, to find amicable solutions. We help them to solve their problems (see case studies).

Generally, the child and youth ombudsoffices are recognised as mediators of the concerns of children and young persons, although it should be attempted to increase the general awareness of its services, especially among young persons.

As the child and youth ombudsoffices are responsible for the entire province and as the use of the services offered by them is characterised by a pronounced town/countryside divide, some provinces are trying to regionalise the service. Networking with remote districts is a goal. In the long term, it would be desirable to open offices in the districts, but this presents financial problems.

Visits in schools are also a means of promoting the child and youth ombudsoffices. Sets of methods were developed to work creatively - during the lessons or during information visits - in subject areas affecting the child and youth ombudsoffices or the children/young persons. Furthermore, it is planned, for instance in Salzburg, to have young persons make a video about child and youth ombudsoffices which specifically addresses young persons.

Because of the name "Anwaltschaft", which literally translates as "the Bar", the child and youth ombudsoffices are sometimes mistaken for an attorney's office. Although the law does not provide for a representation of children and young persons in court, in some cases staff members of the child and youth ombudsoffices will accompany youths in court so that they have the support of somebody they trust; however, it is more frequent for the offices to contact the court by telephone or to send statements supporting the case of the affected to court (for instance in custody matters)

  1. Positive changes for children and young persons in Austria
School mediation

Mediation is a procedure of non-violent constructive conflict settlement, of mediation by an impartial third party - so called conciliators - when a dispute arises. For the purposes of school mediation, some schoolchildren are trained as conciliators and learn to handle conflicts positively. This tool is not just useful in a school environment. It is also a way for the trainees to acquire an additional qualification and improve their social competency. As conciliators, they motivate quarrelling parties of their age bracket to take the responsibility to settle their conflict independently and on their own.

Currently, school mediation projects are carried out in the following provinces: Carinthia, Tyrol, Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria.

Improvement of the protection of victims of violence and abuse (section 34 CRC)

In some areas, the legal situation has improved (principle of violence-free education, law on the protection against violence, improvement of the status of victims as witnesses in criminal procedures).

Following an initiative of the child and youth ombudsoffices, most Austrian provinces have introduced free legal representation in criminal proceedings for under-age victims of violence and abuse. However, the funding method is unclear because the lawyers of the victims provide their work free of charge and do not receive payment from the state.

The child and youth ombudsoffices are currently trying to secure comprehensive psychosocial support for under-age victims of sexual offences during the trial. In some provinces, private associations are already offering this service (e.g. in Vienna, Salzburg). In this way, secondary traumatisation of the victims is to be prevented. Cooperation of the involved groups of professionals (youth welfare department, criminal investigation department, court) is indispensable to clarify and stop, respectively cope with, the consequences of abuse. Support during the trial means providing access to specialist information, advice and support for children and the persons they relate to, as well as cooperation with all involved groups of professionals throughout the trial. At federal level, the necessity of psychosocial support during the trial was also recognised. Consequently, the ministry of justice provides the relevant subsidies.

The "Network against sexual violence" established in some provinces creates networks and promotes the interdisciplinary exchange between different professional groups to prevent sexual abuse. As a preventive measure in the field of violence and sexual violence against children perpetrated by so-called "outsiders", the "Inspector Lux" project has been introduced for primary school children, for instance in Salzburg

"Inspector Lux Project"
Apart from a story highlighting the issue, the children also receive a cash card sized safety card that is to help them to say "No" in certain situations. This card - the idea of which is based on the presentation at the last ENOC meeting - also includes important telephone numbers and homepage addresses.

 

Youth helps youth
In line with the peer group method, qualified young persons offer anonymous discussion and advice by telephone or e-mail on a voluntary basis. This service, available in some provinces, is to reach out to children and young people who are sometimes afraid of communicating their questions, concerns and needs to adults.

All young advisers were prepared for their task by the project sponsors (sometimes the child and youth ombudsoffices, currently in Vienna, Salzburg and Styria) and underwent several weeks of training. During the course, they received the necessary qualification to provide simple information, they were trained to accept incoming "emergency calls", and they were equipped with the knowledge to provide support via the hotline or by e-mail. However, support by an experienced adviser is always available during consulting hours, so that all personal questions and questions concerning the subject matter raised by the callers can be discussed directly.

UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child
We are trying very hard to publicise the idea. We developed some plays and information materials for children and adults, e.g. the postcard booklet "Children have rights ", "Children's rights - what parents should know " - an information booklet by the child and youth ombudsoffices of Austria.

In Salzburg, a project is being launched where information about the rights of children is communicated to the parents in a series of workshops. By attending these workshops, the parents also learn to explain legal problems to their children in an understandable way.

  1. Legal changes concerning children and young persons in Austria
Since the new government has been in office in Austria, a lot of laws were amended. Although the child and youth ombudsoffices are usually involved in the law reviewing procedure, their opinions in this area are of little or no importance. Furthermore, the reviewing periods are usually very short, experts are not involved, and some formulations are amended after the reviewing procedure.
Many cutbacks have been made in the area of social benefits and public funding. Children and young persons are particularly affected by savings measures in the area of education (e.g. increase of the maximum number of children per class, introduction of tuition fees). As a general rule, the philosophy of the day tends to be punishment rather than support.

Important changes of the laws affecting children and youth in 2001 include in particular (experiences are still outstanding):

Reduction of the majority age from 19 to 18 years
Possibility of joint custody for parents after divorce or separation

The effect of the newly introduced joint custody is still very much in doubt. On the one hand, the legislator's intention to motivate both parents to take an equal share in their responsibility towards the children is not clearly recognisable, leaving a lot of leeway for the parents to fight out power games at the expense of the children; on the other hand, the proposals and measures for mediation, controlled access etc. are insufficiently or badly defined. The only improvement from the point of view of the rights of children is that it is now definite that children aged 10 and above have to be heard in divorce proceedings.

In the juvenile court law, the age limit was reduced from 19 to 18 years, too. This means that a young person is considered, in the eyes of the law, to be a young person between the age of 14 and 18. Special provisions were made for the age group of 18 to 21 year olds.

When the new legal provisions were introduced, it was chosen to ignore the fact that the previous arrangement had worked well. The high degree of juvenile delinquency between the ages of 18 and 20 is often but an expression of temporary problems with the adaptation to the adult world. If it is felt to be necessary to reduce the age limit to 18 years, then it would have been equally necessary to develop a comprehensive criminal law for young adults giving priority, in the choice of penalties, to the re-socialisation of the affected persons.

Unfortunately, the unanimous comments of the child and youth ombudsoffices concerning this aspect were ignored.

Re-introduction of the obligation to notify suspected maltreatment or abuse in the medical practitioner law except in the case of close relatives.
  1. Examples of direct communication with children
Many sixteen/seventeen year olds ask us what will happen if they move out of the parental home against their parents’ will, and whether they will still get maintenance.

Many divorced parents complain about their difficulties in understanding the definition of custody and right of access.

Young people call us to find out how to contact parents they "lost" many years ago as a result of separation and divorce.

As a result of the newly introduced Joint Custody (since 1 July 2001), the number of questions concerning the issues of divorce and separation, custody and accompanied access is increasing.

Many young people have questions about their rights, for example for how long they are allowed to stay out, the age of consent, the right to receive pocket money, their legal status and so on.

The child and youth ombudsoffice of Upper Austria has issued a book answering the questions most frequently asked by young persons. Similarly, the child and youth ombudsoffice of Styria answers the most frequently asked questions on its homepage "All Right?! – your questions about your rights - answered by us".

Many need counselling concerning maintenance problems.

Some youngsters were involved in a criminal act and need help with police and court proceedings.

Many victims of violence and sexual abuse contact us. They need a lot of help and support.

Foreign children, especially girls, often experience the problem of disorientation, of feeling lost between two cultures, and they need support in mediation processes with their parents.

Some youngsters have to negotiate with social workers, judges, school officers or other adults. They sometimes call on us to represent their interests and needs.

  1. Demands of the child and youth ombudsoffices
Children’s rights in the constitution

Extension of the scope of youth participation: only sporadically in some laws

Current projects or examples:

Young persons are interviewed about a new youth protection law to be harmonised in 3 provinces
Gemein(de)Sam (together with/in the community) – award for the most child-friendly communities in Styria
Reduction of the voting age for municipal elections to 16 years: Carinthia, Styria and ???
Different child forums, child councils in some communities

More child and youth friendliness

Child-friendly offices in Vienna
Child-friendly traffic planning (brochure in Graz)
Planning of a footpath network for children (in Graz)
Multiple use of "unused " surfaces (in Vienna)
Child-friendly restaurants (in Graz)

Child poverty

There is child poverty in Austria too – but there are (almost) no measures.

Improvement of the situation of unaccompanied minor refugees

As a first measure, several clearing offices are being set up all over Austria (in Vienna, Salzburg, Graz and Upper Austria with different sponsors). A considerable improvement of the hitherto doggedly ignored situation of the youngsters is to be achieved by means of social education, clarification of legal issues, integration measures (e.g. German courses), medical attention and development of a perspective for the future.

Education: No more savings at the expense of schoolchildren or with negative long-term effect on society as a whole– a discussion all over Austria is only just beginning.

 

Last edited by Barneombudet November 11, 2002
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