Crisis over at-risk children - The Sydney Morning Herald - Public Service Association

Crisis over at-risk children – The Sydney Morning Herald

By Anna Patty

Almost 50,000 of the state’s most vulnerable children are still not being seen by caseworkers from the Department of Family and Community Services.

The failure of the department to assess a growing number of at-risk children comes as officials admit that young people continue to suffer sexual and physical abuse while in the care of the state.

A year after the Family and Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, ordered her department to fill all child protection caseworker vacancies, the latest figures show it is unable to see 48,660 children at risk of significant harm.

The figure represents an increase of almost 4000 children from the same period last year. It means almost three quarters of all NSW children deemed at risk are not receiving a face-to-face assessment by a child protection worker.

Since September, Ms Goward’s department has lowered the rate of case-worker vacancies from 13 per cent to 11 per cent.

But in some parts of the state, such as southern NSW, vacancies remain as high as 31 per cent. There are no vacancies in the state’s far west or on the central coast.

Caseworkers told Fairfax Media on Monday that many vacancies were being filled by temporary staff. One manager said he and his colleagues were feeling more stressed this year than last. ”Morale has hit rock bottom and casework practice has deteriorated, especially when it relates to children being transferred around the state. They are being put anywhere there is a bed.”

In separate developments on Monday, a senior department bureaucrat admitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse that predatory carers could still gain access to children.

Government figures reported by Fairfax Media last year showed that of 61,308 children and young people reported as being at risk of significant harm in NSW, 44,899 were not seen by a caseworker for safety checks in the 12 months to June 30, 2012.

The latest caseworker figures published by the department, for October 2012 to September 2013, show that of the 66,719 children reported to DOCS as being at risk of significant harm, 48,660 were not seen for a face-to-face assessment by a child protection worker.

In March last year, Ms Goward wrote to the former head of her department, Jim Moore, directing him to fill all caseworker vacancies.

The issue of staff vacancies has been in the spotlight since the murder of children including Tanilla Warrick-Deaves, 2. Warren James Ross, convicted of beating Tanilla into unconsciousness, faced a sentencing hearing on Friday.

The Opposition spokeswoman for community services, Linda Burney, said the fact that so many children were not being seen was a ”stain on the NSW government”.

“An entire year has lapsed since Pru Goward directed her department to fill all case worker vacancies – and it is shameful that almost nothing has changed,” Ms Burney said.

Public Service Association assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said he received many reports from staff finding it hard to manage ”extreme” workloads.

Family and Community Services secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter said the figures reflected increased recruitment to fill vacancies.

A department spokesman said the numbers did not reflect the many children and young people assessed and receiving support services from a caseworker in a non-government organisation.

The Sydney Morning Herald – Crisis over at-risk children

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