Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Pulling Back the Curtain: State Children's Ombudsmen at Work
by O'Neill, Moira Kathleen, Ph.D., Yale University, 2011, 234; 3467906
Abstract (Summary)

Over the past 100 years a broad and complex system of government sponsored care and protection of children has developed in the United States (U.S.). Yet children are still at considerable risk for poor health exacerbated by maltreatment (Centers for Disease Control, 2010), inadequate education (Institute of Education Sciences, 2010), and unsafe living conditions (Isaacs, 2009). In 2008 an estimated 1,740 children died from abuse and neglect (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2010). These outcomes are, in part a symptom of government failures to implement protective public policies. In response to tragic failings, some states have established children's ombudsman offices to hear complaints from citizens and attempt to improve government systems. There has been a slow but steady increase in the number of these institutions, yet there has been limited examination of them or their effectiveness.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the structure and function of the ombudsmen as a first step in evaluating their impact on children. The design employed situational analysis (Clarke, 2005) which allowed for the use of multiple sources of data to view the broad context of the ombudsmen's situation. Beginning with statute review across the United States, 31 ombudsmen were identified and categorized by their defining characteristics. A sample of all ombudsmen with classical ombudsman characteristics as defined by Gottehrer and Hostina (1998) (N=10) was recruited to participate in interviews designed to explore their experience and interpretation of their work. Other data sources included reports or audits published by or about each office, state budgets, legal documents, legislation (proposed and passed), website contents, news media, other related literature, and proceedings of the 2010 U.S. Ombudsman Association annual meeting.

Using constant comparison, mapping techniques and memoing data were clustered into themes from the ombudsmen's narratives and other resources. The multi-dimensionality of their situation was confirmed and processes they used to transform citizen complaints into systemic improvements were identified. These included strategic approaches to relationships and obstacles in their work. Opportunities for nurses to contribute to this unique role were also identified. The children's ombudsmen in this sample did not network with peers and were generally absent from a national and international dialogue on the health and wellbeing of children.

This study has broad implications for ombudsman practice and children's public policy. It represents a first step in describing the ombudsmen and identifies substantial research questions for the future. It sets the stage for evaluative endeavors that will clarify the impact of ombudsman work on the health and welfare of children and confirms an important role for nurses.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kennedy, Holly Powell
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 72/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Nursing, Public policy, Alternative Dispute Resolution
Keywords: Advocacy, Child advocacy, Child welfare, Human rights, Independent human rights institutions, Ombudsmen, Quality assurance, State government
Publication Number: 3467906
ISBN: 978-1-124-80582-5
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