Child welfare workers set to strike over staff shortages – Sydney Morning Herald
Rachel Browne, James Robertson
NSW child protection workers will walk off the job on Tuesday afternoon in protest against staff shortages that are now preventing them from taking breaks from high-pressure front-line work.
Staff from about half the state’s 60 child protection offices will strike for one hour from noon.
The strike comes after Fairfax Media revealed that there were only 1797 caseworkers employed in the NSW child protection system, contradicting statements by Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward that nearly 2,100 were employed.
”Almost 50 child protection teams [are] missing,” said Steve Turner from the Public Service Association of NSW, who argued that shortages were preventing staff from doing their jobs properly. ”That’s about 2,500 cases that could be better managed.”
The PSA has also critcised a new directive from the department that limits caseworkers’ use of secondment and which it says will put already-stressed caseworkers under more pressure.
Mr Turner said child protection workers needing a break from casework had traditionally used secondment to other areas such as adoption as respite from the demands of casework. ”If they are unable to go on secondment, it’s a terrible problem,” he said. ”Stress levels will go through the roof.”
A crisis meeting between the department and staff is scheduled for Thursday.
The number of community services caseworkers lodging workers’ compensation claims rose by almost a third between 2010-11 and 2011-12, according to the Family and Community Services annual report that showed that psychological injury was the most common for claims, accounting for 32 per cent.
Caseworkers took an average of 56.86 hours of sick leave in 2011-12, compared with 54 hours for NSW Police staff.
The union says chronic staff shortages have increased pressure on staff. ”We’ve been raising this for some time, [Minister Goward has] been saying our figures are wrong,” Mr Turner said. ”The minister’s not responding properly [and] that’s why staff want to escalate this campaign.
”There are six people per child protection team and each caseworker would be working on between 10-20 cases at any one time,” he said. ”If they are 267 jobs down, that’s 44 child protection teams missing in NSW and that’s a huge amount.”
Workers at a community services office in Wollongong walked off the job last year following the death of a two-year-old boy they had been unable to see because of staff shortages. Staff described the death of Zoran Ivanovski as ”tragic and avoidable”.
His mother, Tamie Leanne Apps, has been charged with his murder and is due to appear in Wollongong Local Court on Wednesday.
A report in Fairfax last week showed that fewer than one in six children at risk of significant harm in Sydney’s south-west are being visited or assessed by child protection workers. Ms Goward claimed more checks were taking place with 27 per cent of children at risk receiving a face to face assessment.
A spokeswoman confirmed the department was working towards a policy where ”front-line staff will not be released for secondment to temporary positions until a replacement to backfill their job has been found”.