The NSW Minister for Community Services, Pru Goward, is under pressure to resign for allegedly misleading the parliament, the public and the media about the number of child protection caseworker in the state.
The Minister's office had said that 'more than 2000' caseworkers were employed by the Family and Community Services Department when in fact 300 less than budgeted (around 1800) were employed.
This followed reports that only a quarter of children reported to be at significant risk of harm were seen by a caseworker to check on their welfare.
Departmental workers took industrial action last week in protest and to demand that vacancies be filled. There is more to this than the standard public sector union attempt to boost membership numbers.
The strike – together with the confected outrage over staffing levels – is part of a political campaign designed to discredit a Minister determined to change the NSW child protection system.
The shortage of caseworkers (a perennial problem under both Labor and Liberal administrations) is superficially significant. Even 300 more staff is unlikely to significantly dent the number of children who caseworkers never see.
The opposition is calling for the minister's head even though the 2008 Wood Commission established that under the previous Labor government just 13% of reports that warranted further assessment received a detailed investigation involving a home visit and sighting of the child.
None of this stopped the ABC's Quentin Dempster from spending most of Friday night's Stateline interview focusing on the relative minutiae of caseworker numbers and 'transparency'. The bigger picture, involving departmental opposition to planned changes to child protection practice in the state, was only briefly mentioned in passing towards the end of segment.
Minister Goward will soon introduce a reform package designed to increase the number of abused and neglected children who are adopted.
There are many arguments in favor of increasing adoptions to better protect children (detailed here). One is that adoption will make it easier to ensure that risk reports are properly investigated.
The huffing and puffing about caseworkers shortages endangering children, which all sides of politics engage in, needs to be viewed in the proper context. The real and systemic problem with child protection in Australia concerns the large number of children who are re-reported because of unresolved safety concerns.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
7 posts so far.