Listing case worker figures 'no quick fix' - the Illawarra Mercury - Public Service Association

Listing case worker figures ‘no quick fix’ – the Illawarra Mercury

By Jodie Duffy

A State government decision to publish child protection worker figures was a step in the right direction, a Public Service Association spokesman says.

PSA south-east regional organiser Tony Heathwood said the government had finally conceded that funded positions were not the same as having an employee in the job, doing the job.

“It’s pretty clear that the government has not been filling positions when they’ve become available,” Mr Heathwood said. “We’ve been saying all along that the rhetoric by Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward did not match what was going on in the frontline with caseworkers.”

Ms Goward told Parliament in August that not a single child protection worker had been cut from the Wollongong office. But leaked emails and internal documents showed full-time equivalent positions at Wollongong had dropped from 43 in June 2011 to 32 in December last year.

The opposition claimed Ms Goward had misled Parliament by playing with the figures. After months of controversy, Ms Goward published the caseworker data online revealing that there was on average a 10 per cent vacancy rate in 2012-13 – the equivalent of 206 full-time caseworkers across NSW.

“We’ve no doubt that the cuts were a part of the drive to save money, as every organisation had been asked to do by the O’Farrell government,” Mr Heathwood said. “But cost cutting is not appropriate in the protection of vulnerable children. Child protection workers should have been classified as essential frontline staff.”

The PSA held rallies last month to protest the shortage of caseworkers. The action coincided with the first anniversary of the death of a two-year-old child in Wollongong from alleged abuse.

Ms Goward also announced plans to establish a caseworker pool to enable vacancies to be filled more quickly and to develop better procedures to manage vacancies created when employees were seconded or took extended leave.

“This is a step forward, but given there’s a really long time to train people to a point where they are qualified to fill these roles, it’s not going to be a quick fix,” Mr Heathwood said. “It can take up to six months to train a person to fill one of these positions.”

He said if the department had not terminated its pool of qualified temporary caseworkers 18 months ago, it would have a team of qualified child protection workers it could call on when needed.

The Illawarra Mercury – Listing case worker figures ‘no quick fix’

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