Case in point: Kiesha Weippeart. Photo: SuppliedOnly 30 per cent of NSW’s most serious child abuse cases are fully investigated with a visit by a case worker because of staff shortages, says the Public Service Association, which represents social workers.
That means as many as 70 per cent of cases potentially like Kiesha Weippeart’s may be closed without a visit from a social worker.
These cases were usually shut with the note ”due to competing priorities”, said Robin Croon, an organiser with the Public Service Association of NSW.
”The system is failing the children of this state,” she said, while stressing case workers were doing their best with limited resources.
On Tuesday, the government refused to say exactly how many caseworkers were employed, or whether this number had dropped in recent years. Instead, a spokeswoman said there were ”over 2000 Community Services caseworkers in NSW, as there have been for a number of years”.
The Department of Community Services also refused to comment on the management of Kiesha’s case, as did Community Services minister Pru Goward.
Ms Croon said there might be 2000 positions but the real issue was the ”number of bums on seats”.
In some parts of the state, as many as 20 per cent to 50 per cent of caseworker positions were vacant. In the past two years, not one new social worker had sat the department’s entry test, a requirement for any new caseworker.
Ms Croon said if there had been more caseworkers, more may have done more to protect Kiesha.
A report by the NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour earlier this year into reviewable child deaths in NSW found two-thirds of the families of the 77 children who died or were suspected of dying of abuse, neglect or in care in 2010 and 2011 had a child protection history.
”In some cases, families had been the subject of frequent reports,” he said. ”We found that risk was not adequately assessed, or not assessed at all because of competing priorities and gaps in casework.”
Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward has said caseworker numbers go up and down and has promised more detailed figures later this year.
Court documents revealed Kiesha had only attended school four times in her life and she had suffered repeated bruising and abuse, including cigarette burns inflicted by her mother. ”She shouldn’t have been out of school for that length of time,” Ms Croon said. ”And if there were enough case workers, then more children would be in safe placements.”
Experts said the sheer number of cases was swamping social workers, causing many experienced caseworkers to leave because they had become burnt out and had been traumatised by the cases they had seen.
Across Australia, there were more than 300,000 calls to child abuse help lines in 2011-12, often concerning the same children.
According to Martha Knox-Haly, who has studied child abuse in NSW for nearly 20 years, everyone is under pressure.
”When you have got this kind of volume, it is hard to keep track and effectively triage,” she said. ”We clearly have a social problem of failing to support families and we are stripping away institutional support for them.”
Dr Knox-Haly, an organisational pyschologist who runs MKA Risk Mitigation, said the number of working parents living below the poverty line had increased, the availability of foster care was limited, and more families at risk were slipping through the net as they moved from rental property to rental property in search of affordable housing.
According to Tim Beard, the head of child welfare data with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of substantiations (serious cases) rose by nearly 8000 in 2011-12 to 48,000 cases after falling for the previous four years.
A substantiation occurs when an investigation finds there is enough evidence to show a child has been or is at risk of abuse or harm.
He said this jump could indicate caseworkers had got better at identifying children most at risk and were also clearing a backlog of more serious cases.
”There can’t be a sudden spate of child abuse and neglect – you don’t suddenly see 8000 new cases,” he said.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.Categories : 杭州龙凤