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’Exhausted’ staff expose system in ‘crisis’

CHILD PROTECTION PROTEST
NSW caseworkers have walked off the job amid concerns the system is at breaking point. Picture: NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Child protection workers in NSW have walked off the job in protest of the “unacceptable risk” posed to vulnerable children across the state.

Caseworkers protested outside the Redfern Community Services Centre in Sydney on Wednesday amid what they are calling a “crisis in child protection”.

Just one in four children reported to child protection services at risk of serious harm are being seen by a child protection caseworker, according to the Public Service Association.

CHILD PROTECTION PROTEST
NSW caseworkers have protested against the ‘unacceptable risk’ being posed to vulnerable children across the state. Picture: NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
CHILD PROTECTION PROTEST
They are calling on the state government to take immediate action. Picture: NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Department data from 2023 shows 113,668 children and young people were reported as at risk of serious harm, but only 23 per cent of those were seen by a caseworker.

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In some parts of the state, just 15 per cent of children were seen.

The union said caseworkers were reporting “chronic understaffing” and “staff burnout” as vacancy rates within the industry reached as high as one in five.

The union is calling on the Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington and the state government to immediately recruit an additional 500 caseworkers, provide caseworkers with an immediate and substantial pay rise and de-privatise foster care.

CHILD PROTECTION PROTEST
Caseworkers gathered outside the Community Services Centre in Redfern in protest. Picture: NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

PSA general secretary Stewart Little said NSW Premier Chris Minns must intervene.

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

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

Mr Little said the demands must be met, otherwise the system “will collapse”.

“Child protection caseworkers are passionate about their work, and they want the people of Redfern to know no urgent child protection responses will be impacted during their protest, and that skeleton staffing will be maintained at all times during this protest,” Mr Little said.

“But they feel they have to do something as management just aren’t listening to their concerns.”

CHILD PROTECTION PROTEST
Union leaders from across the country say issues within child protection services are not isolated to NSW. Picture: NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Union leaders from across the country have echoed Mr Little’s calls for change, noting child protection services are in dire situations right across the country.

“Unfortunately this issue is not unique to NSW. In South Australia we have serious problems with attraction and retention of child protection workers and too many children and families are falling through the cracks,” PSA South Australia general secretary Natasha Brown said.

Community and Public Services Union Western Australia general secretary, Rikki Hendon said the system was “haemorrhaging” staff and called on state and federal governments to allocate more resources to assist Australia’s most vulnerable children.