Mon August 6, 2012 6:16pm
TASMANIA'S Commissioner for Children fears foster children are being silenced, with the future of a key program up in the air.
TASMANIA'S Commissioner for Children fears foster kids are being silenced by the State Government, with the future of a key support program hanging in the balance.Aileen Ashford is stumped that she can no longer run a children's visitors program that was set up by her predecessor almost three years ago.The program matches independent volunteers with foster children, providing kids with an independent avenue to voice concerns or opinions about out-of-home-care.The State Government's Children and Youth Services director Mark Bryne said the program was not part of the commissioner's "primary role and function".However, Ms Ashford was concerned at suggestions the program would be operated by a non-government organisation. "I've only recently been advised that my powers do not extend to operating the program, even though it commenced under my predecessor nearly three years ago," she said. "I've made myself very clear to both the Minister (Michelle O'Byrne) and the department that to outsource this program for children in care to a non-government organisation will not provide them with a truly independent, impartial and fearless advocate."I am deeply concerned that children in care will not have a truly independent and impartial voice for them."Mr Bryne said a new model for the program was currently being finalised. He said the program would have a "significant mentoring and advocacy function".But the future of existing relationships forged between volunteers and foster children was uncertain.Miriam Herzfeld is one of seven volunteers still working in the program. She has been meeting a foster child once a month since the program started in December 2009.In the past, volunteers regularly met the commissioner and provided a report on visits they had with a child. The commissioner raised any problems with the minister. "No matter what happened with their placement or child protection workers, we were to remain the constant person in their lives," Mrs Herzfeld said.