Office Size and Structure
History of the Office
Report for the Annual Meeting of ENOC
Office activities, cooperation with Government, Parliament, NGOs
Positive changes for children and
young persons in Austria
Legal changes concerning children and
young persons in Austria
|In Austria the Federal
Childrens 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
The Ombudsmen have a broad remit to do individual casework, as well as to promote
childrens rights at the broader policy level. The Ombudsmen are charged with the
defence of childrens interests within the framework of judicial and administrative
procedures and the promotion of public awareness of childrens 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.
|Name of Office (In
||Kinder & JugendAnwaltschaft
|Name of Office (In
||Federal Childrens Ombudsman
Jugendanwaltschaft des Bundes
Bundesministerium für Soziale Sicherheit, Generationen
43 1 71100 - 3269
1 7189470 - 1884
|Title of Ombudsman
|Name of Ombudsman
|Name of contact
person for ENOC
|OFFICE SIZE AND STRUCTURE
|Number of staff members
|List of staff
members and functions
Mag. Gundula Syouni
Children and Youth head
Secretary (unofficial-normally he is working in the office of youth welfare)
|Summary of annual
|HISTORY OF THE OFFICE
|Date the office was
Report for the Annual Meeting of ENOC
(Paris, October 2001)
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
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!
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).
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
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)
- Positive changes for children and young persons
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.
mediation projects are carried out in the following provinces:
Carinthia, Tyrol, Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria.
of the protection of victims of violence and abuse (section
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
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
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.
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.
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.
on the Rights of the Child
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
- Legal changes concerning children and young
persons in Austria
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
- Examples of direct communication with
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.
- 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
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)|
There is child poverty in Austria too – but there are
(almost) no measures.
Improvement of the situation of unaccompanied minor
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.