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Former Catholic official appointed child abuse watchdog

The Victorian Government yesterday appointed Catholic Welfare Australia former national director Toby O'Connor as its first watchdog for children at risk.

Community Services Minister Sherryl Garbutt announced that Mr O'Connor would hold the new position of Advocate for Children in Care. The position covers only children protected by the state away from their family home, including those in foster care.

"Mr O'Connor will work with the Department (of Human Services) and community service organisations to ensure they have robust complaint systems in place to provide rigorous examination of any concerns raised about the care of children," Ms Garbutt said.

But the appointment has generated some controversy, with groups working within child protection sayhing many children not in the care of the state were neglected and abused.

Anglicare Victoria's chief executive, the Reverend Ray Cleary, welcomed the appointment but said it would fail to deliver an ombudsman or commissioner role that was discussed when the position was first mooted in May last year.

Mr O'Connor told The Age that the position was not created for all children but specifically for children already in care. He said his role would be to improve the care of children within the system.

"The advocate is right in the middle, and the position is one that is going to need a strongly willed and independent person, which I believe I am," Mr O'Connor said.

At the time of his departure from Catholic Welfare Australia, he spoke of his "enthusiasm for active participation" in the welfare sector.

"I have been humbled by the responsibility given to me to represent those less fortunate in our nation," he said. "It has indeed been a very great privilege and honour and one that will have an enduring formative affect on me personally."

Children's advocate draws fire (The Age 30/3/04)
Catholic Welfare Australia | National Director of Catholic Welfare Australia seeks a seachange (3/12/03)

Victorian Department of Human Services | Child Protection

30 Mar 2004