Tens of thousands of children at risk of abuse not seen in person by NSW government case workers - Public Service Association

Tens of thousands of children at risk of abuse not seen in person by NSW government case workers

A shocking number of young people at risk of physical or sexual abuse are never seen in person by a NSW government caseworker. It comes as fears of a mass exodus of childcare workers. Here’s why.

NSW Premier Chris Minns has admitted our child protection regime is not good enough after it The Daily Telegraph revealed tens of thousands of children suspected of being at risk of physical or sexual abuse in NSW are not seen in person by state government authorities, with caseworkers failing to visit up to 76 per cent of young people reported as vulnerable.

Yet while the Premier acknowledged the system was not adequately protecting children, he said improving the working conditions of child protection workers was part of the solution, pointing to the removal of the public sector wage cap.

“We’re hopeful that the changes we’ve made for the public service across the board will encourage people into this profession as we know many people regard it as a calling,” he said on Monday.

“I acknowledge the statistics that have been reported are not good enough but we believe investing in our workforce will make a change.”

Yet, despite the wages cap ending in September last year multiple current and former caseworkers told The Telegraph conditions have only got worse.

Of the 113,425 children and young people reported as at risk of significant harm from October 1, 2022, until September 30 last year, only 27,138 were seen by Department of Communities and Justice caseworkers, while 86,287 received no visit at all, according to exclusive new data.

If a child is not seen within 28 days, the case is closed.

Yet by June 2023 nearly 33 per cent of children were ­re-reported within 12 months of their case being closed.

The shocking new statistics come as the Minns government struggles to stop a mass exodus of child protection workers from the industry, many of whom say they are forced to work long hours with no extra pay.

NSW’s caseworker vacancy rate spiked by five percentage points to 12 per cent between July and September last year, with large numbers of child protection workers claiming workers’ compensation due to stress and burnout.

At the end of December, 145 case workers had open workers’ compensation claims.

The vacancy rate has increased rapidly since June 2022, when it was at just 2 per cent.

The Daily Telegraph spoke to multiple current and former child protection caseworkers who said mass staff shortages and unreasonable administrative demands resulted in many vulnerable children not receiving the help they badly needed. Many also said the failure to fix the system had resulted in increasing costs, with the system already stinging taxpayers $3.1bn per year.

Caseworker shortages were the most severe in the mid north coast, New England and northern NSW regions, where the vacancy rate hit 23 per cent, resulting in less than one in six children being seen by a child protection worker.

Of these at-risk children across NSW, most are reported to authorities by concerned members of the public such as teachers and doctors.

Nearly a quarter of the cases were due to neglect, with physical and sexual abuse the next most commonly reported.

The data also found nearly 500 children were living in High Cost Emergency Arrangements (HCEAs) such as hotels, motels and serviced apartments, overseen by non-government agencies and labour hire agencies. Many at-risk children staying in HCEAs cost taxpayers more than $1m per child per year.

Former child protection caseworker Belinda Tsirekas said the system was letting kids slip through the cracks.

She resigned in December last year after being a caseworker for 24 years. She said she had never seen the system so broken, with many caseworkers plagued by unrealistic KPIs, forcing many to work long hours without extra pay.

“Everyone is killing themselves, working extra hours, many working for free, really impacting on their wellbeing and yet we’re still only seeing that many children,” she said.

“I’ve never spoken to any caseworker that says they feel valued in the workplace … they burnout and leave … it’s a vicious cycle.”

Family and Community Minister Kate Washington acknowledged the system “was spiralling out of control”, flagging changes to workloads as part of reforms coming later this year to attract more staff to the critical sector.


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