9 May 2024

Riverina child protection workers join statewide protest and walk off the job

| Chris Roe
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Child protection caseworkers in Wagga joined a statewide protest over a lack of staff and resources.

Child protection caseworkers in Wagga joined a statewide protest over concerns about staffing and resources. Photo: Chris Roe.

Child protection caseworkers in the Riverina have joined a statewide stop-work protest, gathering outside Community Services Centres to raise concerns over unacceptable risks to child safety in NSW.

Caseworkers warn of a crisis in child protection with only one in four kids reported as being at ‘risk of serious harm’ (ROSH) actually being seen by a child protection caseworker.

Public Service Association (PSA) organiser Tom Hooper joined workers outside the Commonwealth building in Wagga and said the backlog was unacceptable.

“There are over 15,000 ROSH reports that came in in the Riverina/Murrumbidgee area and of that, only 3500 were seen,” he said.

“So 22 per cent of people who have been reported at risk of ROSH are being seen, so it’s less than one in four.”

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Child protection caseworkers report chronic understaffing and burnout and warn that without enough staff to intervene early, only the most serious cases are being addressed and these are likely to lead to removals.

“We’re asking the government to immediately look at appointing 500 new caseworkers, to bring out-of-home care (OOHC) back into the public service and to give these people recognition for the work they do with a significant pay rise to help recruit and then retain caseworkers,” Mr Hooper said.

PSA Organiser Tom Hooper called the situation a 'crisis'.

PSA organiser Tom Hooper called the situation a ‘crisis’. Photo: Chris Roe.

Dozens of caseworker positions are currently unfilled in NSW and its estimated that one in two will leave in their first two years with the department.

PSA General Secretary Stewart Little called on Premier Chris Minns to intervene.

“The most vulnerable children in NSW are at risk of serious harm, or even worse because child protection caseworkers are chronically understaffed and exhausted,” said Mr Little.

“Child protection workers are now concerned that by exposing vulnerable children to a broken system they may suffer even more harm.”

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In NSW, almost 15,000 children live in OOHC and Mr Hooper said privatisation of the service was adding to the strain on the system.

“Since out-of-home care was privatised, the average cost is $1.7 million per child per year for people who have alternate care arrangements, which are basically motels,” he said.

“There are over 100 children a night on average in NSW and that has blown out the out-of-home care budget by nearly half a billion dollars in the last four years.

“Imagine how many family caseworkers that would have employed.”

PSA leaders said Wednesday’s action was just the first step and campaign rallies would roll out across the state if the government didn’t respond.

Mr Little said caseworkers were passionate about supporting the communities they worked with and promised services would not be impacted by the protests.

“They feel they have to do something as management just aren’t listening to their concerns,” said Mr Little.

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