Children at risk must be our highest priority: Goward must clarify casework figures

Staffing and funding for child protection and targeted early intervention services must be urgently increased if the current levels are unable to meet the demand for support, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and spokesperson for Family and Community Services.

Her comments follow the release of figures indicating that only around one-quarter of children reported at risk of significant harm were interviewed by a caseworker and given a safety check: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/44899-children-unchecked-20130709-2pofc.html

“Identifying families where children are at risk and delivering appropriate action, including early intervention services and assessment of whether a child is in need of care and protection, must be urgent priorities,” Ms Barham said.

“I’m concerned that the recent NSW Budget doesn’t show a funding commitment to prioritise the support for vulnerable children. Recent reports have highlighted that child protection caseworkers aren’t able to keep up with the number of reports received and concerns have been raised about the time spent on paperwork rather than face-to-face visits and checks.

“The budget only allocated a 2.8 percent funding increase to statutory child protection and even worse, funding for targeted early intervention to support vulnerable families has been cut by more than 8 percent.

“A Government Discussion Paper on child protection released last year recognised the need for targeted action to prevent harm to children, including early intervention and parenting programs.

Ms Barham noted that the foster care system was already under strain, with more than 18,000 children currently in out-of-home care.

“Foster carers play a vital role caring for the 18,000 children who are unable to live with their own families. But more support is needed to increase the number of carers.

“The Government must clarify the current situation with caseworkers and how reports of risk of significant harm are handled. There also must be enough caseworkers so that reports of significant risk can be assessed, and early intervention and prevention services have to be expanded Children at risk must be the highest priority in NSW,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact: Jan Barham 0407 065 061; David Mallard 0432 881 448

Background

Budget 2013/14:

Statutory Child Protection
Risk of significant harm (ROSH) reports: 61,000 in 12/13; 59,500 in 13/14
ROSH reports receiving a face-to-face assessment or service: 37,000 in 12/13; 38,000 in 13/14

Budget for Statutory Child Protection:
2012/13 (revised): $423.0 million
2013/14 (budget): $445.6 million – real increase of 2.8% (5.3% nominal increase)

Targeted Earlier Intervention (incl. domestic violence services, etc., as well as children)
Budget for Targeted Earlier Intervention:
2012/13 (revised): $262.2 million
2013/14 (budget): $245.8 million – real decrease of 8.5% (6.3% nominal decrease)

Out-of-Home Care
Children in OOHC: 18,400 in 12/13; 18,400 in 13/14
NGO statutory OOHC placements: 38% in 12/13; 58% in 13/14

Budget for Out-of-Home Care:
2012/13 (revised): $776.8 million
2013/14 (budget): $798.9 million – real increase of 0.3% (2.8% nominal increase)

Community Services Expenditure on Consultancies (FACS 2011/12 Annual Report):

Ernst & Young, Child Protection Caseload Review Phase 2: $363,619
KPMG, Community Services NSW Organisational Review: $342,223
Ernst & Young, Review of Subsidies and Grants Program: $ 81,565

DoCS/FACS Annual Reports:

 

2008/9

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

CP reports

309,676

256,088

215,272

228,821

Rate per 1 000 population in ROSH

Reports (further assessment)

71.1

55.4

37.3

38.3

ROSH reports

226,946

163,200

98,845

99,283

JIRT team referrals accepted

3,436

3,877

4,249

4,070

Numbers in OOHC

16,524

17,400

17,896

18,169

Numbers of caseworkers

2,187

2,212

2,320

2,229

Budget Estimates 2012/13 – discussion of casework/assessment:

The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD: Of the assessments that were made of risk of significant harm, how many children received a face-to-face assessment by a caseworker in the past six months?
Ms PRU GOWARD: I am very pleased you asked that question because we have put an enormous effort into improving the baseline. As you know, in August 2011 the Ombudsman observed that 24 per cent of children had their cases closed without assessment. We have introduced a number of measures. Of course, the safety assessment, risk assessment [SARA] tool is working much more effectively. That has enabled us to increase the number of face-to-face assessments by 27 per cent since last year. In fact, 25,684 assessments were completed in 2011-12 compared with 20,204 in the previous year. That is almost 30 per cent more children and young people benefiting from improved services.