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Auditor General report finds Child Protection system failing

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“Inefficient, ineffective, and unsustainable”… that’s how the NSW Child Protection System has been described in an independent report released by the Auditor General this month. 

The state’s most vulnerable children, it has found, are subjected to “crisis driven” care that has seen more than 470 children living in damaging environments, costing up to $300 million per year. 

The report, released on 6 June, finds the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) isn’t proactively supporting families at the earliest point of contact, instead waiting until families are in crisis and therefore increasing the likelihood children will be removed from their parents. 

Public Service Association (PSA) General Secretary Stewart Little says Privatisation of services in the last decade is to blame for DCJ no longer monitoring the wellbeing of children in out of home care. 

This, he says, has led to 471 children living in costly and damaging environments like hotels and motels for months or years at a time at a cost of $300 million per annum, rather than with foster parents or in group homes as was the system pre privatisation. 

The report also found the number of children being returned to their parents from out of home care has declined in the past six years. 

“Child protection caseworkers have been saying for years the child protection system in NSW is in crisis and today this report has proved them right,” said Mr Little. 

“Most people would be shocked to learn only one in four kids reported as at risk of serious harm to child protection services by police, nurses or teachers is actually seen because there simply aren’t enough child protection caseworkers. 

“So, that means child protection caseworkers only see the very worst cases. 

“So instead of proactively supporting families at their earliest point of contact and providing access to domestic violence or drug and alcohol or NDIS services for example they arrive on the doorstep months later when there is no chance of salvaging the situation, which often means they end up taking kids away.  

“The public would be outraged to learn if they call child protection services to report little Johnny is always covered in bruises and never looks like he’s had a proper feed that it’s only a one in four chance anyone will check on him.” 

Privatisation, says Mr Little, is to blame for the current system failings. 

“Ten years ago the DCJ used to directly recruit, train and support foster carers, we need to return to that and cancel the contracts of for-profit and not-for-profit providers who have got their tentacles into the system,” he says. 

“The foster care system has been left to wither and die because we privatised the care of children removed from homes, it’s absolutely perverse. 

“It’s absolutely nuts child protection caseworkers no longer monitor the wellbeing of children in out of home care meaning they don’t have the information they need to meet their legislative responsibility to ensure kids are receiving proper care and support. 

“I can’t put it any more clearly than this, out of home care (OOHC) providers, as they are called, need to be completely removed from the child protection system, they are getting in the way of child protection caseworkers looking after kids, and to add insult to injury they are costing more than the old system.   

“We know of one child which cost taxpayers $1.2 million to put up in hotels and motels, that’s crazy, that money could have sustained an army of foster parents. 

“Another thing which has crept in in the last 10 years is the paperwork, child protection caseworkers tell me they spend most of their time filling in useless forms to satisfy management, not out meeting with children and families and using their expertise to turn lives around,” he concludes.  

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