SOS Children’s Villages initiated the development of an independent ombuds system in June 2021 as part of the response to the Independent Child Safeguarding Review. The new system being developed with the external consultant Proteknon will add an independent voice promoting the rights and needs of individuals affected by abuse and neglect within SOS Children’s Villages programs.
The system will provide checks and balances to existing safeguarding procedures, support children, young people and adults in resolving concerns and complaints, and serve as a focal point between the complainant and the organization. Judi Fairholm and Andrew Azzopardi, senior associates at Proteknon, share an update on the progress made and in changes in approach since the project began.
The role of the ombuds is to independently assist children, young people, whistleblowers and other individuals to understand and navigate their options to resolve their concerns through existing channels.
SOS Children’s Villages, with the support of Proteknon, has made considerable progress in developing the ombuds system since the projected started in June 2021.
Some 315 children and young people from the pilot countries Benin, Sierra Leone and Uruguay participated in consultation workshops, which have generated indispensable insights into what is important for them in an ombuds. With their input, the pilot projects are embarking to give us real world experience in how the system will operate on a program level.
However, since starting the project, some changes to our approach were necessary. We realized that, to be successful, the ombudsperson model needs to be developed not from the top down, but from the ground-up.
After consultations with a number of external experts in the ombuds area, including from the United Nations system and the International Ombuds Association, we decided against installing a global ombudsperson at the outset as originally planned.
The reason was multifactorial: ground-up meant that we could learn from the programs and understand the local adaptation needed and it increased the buy-in with SOS Children’s Villages member associations. We would start with the check and balance on child safeguarding where it was happening, and we would then be prepared to move to the regional and global level with systems in place and lessons learned.
Another reason for a ground-up approach is that youth participation is crucial to developing the ombudsperson model. Their meaningful participation requires well-defined processes and training, and hence time. Therefore, the project will be built from the ground up, with piloting and properly supported child and youth participation in the three pilot countries and in two regional offices before being implemented in other SOS Children’s Villages member associations.
The ground-up approach allows us to learn from the experience at the program level and see what is needed to build a flexible, adaptable and sustainable model that can be implemented in SOS Children’s Villages member associations worldwide.
The goal is to have a fully operational Ombuds Office at all three levels—national, regional and global—by the beginning of 2023. Then other SOS Children’s Villages member associations can start coming on board.
Throughout this process, we are going to be listening, learning and applying. Ultimately, we will create an Ombuds Office that meets international standards while being tailormade for SOS Children Villages.
Judi Fairholm joined Proteknôn in October 2019 after working 35 years in Safeguarding and Child Protection within the RCRC Movement. She has also worked on projects with Caritas, Sesame Street, The Alliance, Save the Children and UNICEF. Andrew Azzopardi of Proteknôn has 15 years of experience working with victims, survivors and perpetrators of abuse in NGOs, INGOs, faith-based and sport settings.