I have had the pleasure of working with Diana Cooke for several years. Diana is the Director of Children and Youth at Ombudsman Ontario. Previously, she worked at the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth as the Director of Advocacy and later as the Director of Investigations. Diana’s experience includes working with young people involved in the youth court, child welfare, and emergency shelter systems. She holds both a Master of Social Work and a Master of Laws degree.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Diana to talk about her background working with children and youth, her current role as the Director of the Children and Youth unit at the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman, and the work of that unit. The following are her responses to a series of questions posed during our discussion.
What is the Ontario Ombudsman’s authority relating to issues affecting Children and Youth?
Following legislative amendments, on May 1, 2019, the Ontario Ombudsman became responsible for the investigative function of the former Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Under this new mandate, the Ombudsman may investigate any matter relating to services provided to a child by children’s aid societies or residential licensees such as foster homes, group homes, treatment centres, youth justice facilities, and secure treatment programs. The Ombudsman also has jurisdiction over a number of other programs and services affecting children, youth, and families including school boards and universities, the provincial and demonstration schools for students who are Deaf, Deaf blind or have severe learning disabilities, services to children with complex special needs, Ontario Works, driver’s licenses, the Ontario Disability Support program, and birth certificates. The Ombudsman can review and investigate complaints he receives and can investigate on his own initiative. Overall, our jurisdiction over matters affecting children and youth is quite broad and very robust.
Our Office is also a member of the Canadian Council of Children and Youth Advocates, the Children and Families Chapter of the United States Ombudsman Association, and we closely follow the work of the European Network of Ombudsman for Children. I mention this to point out that, across the world, the way Children’s Advocates, Children’s Ombudsman, and Children’s Commissioners approach their work is very similar and we operate under common principles.