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Child protection ‘in crisis’, PSA Edgeworth protest


A “death spiral” – that’s how the child protection system was being described by industry caseworkers at a protest outside the Edgeworth Community Services Centre this week. 

Though small in number, the group was determined to be loud in voice on Thursday 18 April, calling out the government for ignoring what it claims is “an industry in crisis”, and ultimately putting children’s lives at risk. 

Protesting with placards and chants at the front of the Edgeworth branch at lunchtime, caseworkers say they’ve been told the Main Road address will soon be permanently shut.  

The group says they have been advised the site’s faulty alarms are to blame.

But, Public Service Association (PSA) assistant general secretary Troy Wright states it’s a lie. 

“This centre has been here serving this community since at least 2007,” he said. 

“It is an operative, functional office and an important community service in this area. 

“We’ve been told that the reason for the closure is duress alarms. 

“We call that BS. It is not duress alarms. This is clearly a cost-cutting measure by local management. 

“This area needs a community services centre. These workers need to be based here serving the community and working for families and children at risk of serious harm.” 

The CSC Edgeworth branch is one of three in the Hunter, including Charlestown and Mayfield. 

PSA staff protest worsening industry conditions at Edgeworth Community Services Centre.

The team at Edgeworth says they have been told their office could close because it is regularly short-staffed, a trait they say is indicative of the industry. 

“There aren’t enough staff here, and that is an issue that is occurring right across the state in every single office of community services right now because of years and years of neglect,” says Mr Wright. 

“We are aware that the average case worker only lasts 17 months after recruitment and we are aware that the turnover of case workers is nowhere near meeting the demand and that they cannot recruit fast enough to fix the interest rate. 

“Child protection in this state is in a massive crisis right now because of workforce issues, we have been calling on the government to address these issues.” 

Mr Wright says industry problems can be traced back to the privatisation of the foster care system about 15 years ago. 

“What we have witnessed because of that [decision] are poor outcomes for children that are removed from their families and what we have also witnessed is enormous budget blowouts,” he explained.

“These workers here, who perform front line roles, assessing and removing at times children at risk of serious harm, need greater resources.”  

The announcement that Edgeworth CSC will close has inflamed the concerns of local child protection caseworkers who are already concerned about the children they deal with. 

It comes in the wake of alarming new statistics showing three in four children reported as at risk of harm from 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023 received no visit from Department of Communities and Justice caseworkers.  

Alarmingly, a recent report found low staffing numbers are believed to be among the reasons for some of the deaths of children in child protection in 2022. 

“For every child that is reported to child protection through the helpline as being at risk, whether it’s by a police officer or a nurse or a teacher or a neighbour, only one in four of those children are being seen,” says Mr Wright. 

“Can you imagine in a hospital emergency department if four patients came in and the doctor said, I cannot see all four of you, I’m only going to see one. 

“We would be outraged, and we should be similarly outraged by that happening in our child protection system.” 

Tony Wright

Staff shortages, says Mr Wright, are partly to blame for the shortcomings. 

The sector is experiencing an unprecedented attraction and retention crisis with one in four positions unfilled in some regions of the state. 

The department’s own figures show the vacancy rate for child protection caseworkers has increased exponentially in the last year, with the state losing more caseworkers than it is employing. 

The child protection caseworkers that are left are relatively inexperienced and coping with the extra workload of colleagues who have left. 

One in two child protection caseworkers leave in their first two years of employment with the department. 

Premier Chris Minns needs to intervene, according to Mr Wright. 

“The most vulnerable children in New South Wales are at risk of serious harm, or even worse, because child protection caseworkers are chronically understaffed, exhausted and management just aren’t listening to their concerns,” he said.

“But, the response to this crisis by the Department of Communities and Justice management is to close offices rather than increase resources. 

“PSA members are now concerned that we are at risk in NSW of exposing the very same vulnerable children we are meant to be supporting to even greater harm through a broken system. 

“Chris Minns needs to immediately onboard another 500 child protection caseworkers to address the attraction and retention crisis in child protection, otherwise the system will collapse,” adds Mr Wright. 

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