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400 kids waiting for help

DAVID BENIUK, Sunday Tasmanian, April 15 2018

UP to 400 Tasmanian children are waiting on child protection services as the system continues to buckle under increasing demand, internal figures seen by the Sunday Tasmanian show.

Caseload figures produced by the Child Safety Service (CSS) indicate at least 282 cases were unallocated at the end of March. But the figure is likely to be higher, with cases often involving several children, and with managers and part-time staff allocated cases they are unable to work on. The worst figures are in the North and North-West, where up to 69 per cent of child safety officers are managing more than the 15 children recommended.

The numbers underline the huge challenge facing new Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch, who replaced the demoted Jacquie Petrusma after the state election.

Community and Public Sector Union secretary Tom Lynch said the system was at breaking point. “We’re looking at an ongoing crisis in child protection where about 400 cases are not adequately allocated to a worker who has the capacity to deal with that case professionally,” Mr Lynch told the Sunday Tasmanian.

“I don’t think Tasmanians think this is a fair way to treat children that are being reported at risk in our society.”

Stress levels among officers are soaring, Mr Lynch said, making it difficult to maintain staff numbers. “In the North-West it’s horrible,” he said. “People are breaking down all the time.” The State Government acknowledged the system was “broken” in 2015, when then Minister Petrusma announced a redesign. It came after the revelation that 151 referrals had been overlooked in the North-West as staff struggled to keep up.

The new CSS figures from March 27 show:

187 INTAKE cases were to be allocated statewide.

28 RESPONSE cases were to be allocated.

67 CHILDREN were yet to be allocated case managers.

50 PER CENT of intake workers in the North-West and

33 per cent in the North were over their ”trigger point” for a discussion about their caseload. 69 PER CENT of case managers in the North-West and 49 per cent in the South were over their trigger point. The numbers would look worse but for team leaders, part-timers and staff on leave allocated dozens of cases, the documents show.

Mr Lynch said an extra 40 staff were needed to address the urgent need. Minister Jaensch said the State Government had made a serious commitment to the system with its redesign, employing 40 staff and spending $51 million on families and children at risk. “In this new term of government we will invest an additional $16.7 million into child safety and youth justice services,” he said.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said the redesign targeted early support to prevent children from entering the system. A 12-month trial of intensive support for families with complex needs was under way and a new advice and referral service was due to come on line later this year, he said. “The department acknowledges the challenges currently faced with increasing demand on our Child Safety Services,” the spokesman said. Opposition spokesman Josh Willie said Labor had pledged $7.5 million at the election for 20 staff to address what he called an “emergency”. “Mr Jaensch has just not provided the staff and resources to even assess these children’s situations and make an effort to ensure those children are safe,” Mr Willie said.

Find follow up story published on Monday April 16 in the Mercury below (click to enlarge).


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