Children’s Commissioner says child safety system needs improvement

Examiner article, 28 June 2021, Ebony Abblitt

A lack of publicly-available information means Tasmania’s child safety system is “somewhat opaque” and its performance is difficult to monitor, the Commissioner for Children and Young People has claimed.

Leanne McLean, Tasmania’s CCYP, said the regular flow of publicly available information, like statistics recently released on the Human Services Dashboard, was important but was not painting enough of a picture.

“This enables independent monitoring of our system,” she said.

“However, the problem with the dashboard data is that it doesn’t provide enough information to be able to really judge the performance of our system, particularly given the system operates differently since the introduction of the Strong Families Safe Kids reforms.

“This means the system’s real performance is somewhat opaque to those of us seeking to understand it.

Data released Friday afternoon revealed an increase of more than 350 per cent in the number of children in active transition in the department compared to 12 months ago.

Ms McLean indicated that, given the level of fluctuation in the data month by month, that the system was vulnerable to changes in demand.

“This could be exacerbated by something as small as minor staffing changes,” she said.

Community and Public Sector Union Tasmania general secretary Thirza White was shocked and disappointed to see the data blowout.

“What we see is a consistently shocking picture that needs a radical rethink of how we support the staff working in child safety,” she said. “It’s one of the toughest jobs you can do and it’s understaffed every day – you’re asking workers to do though work with one hand behind their back, and I think that’s incredibly stressful for child safety workers.”

With understaffing issues in the sector, Ms White said the union wanted to see a conversation about getting more positions filled, and a ratio system for staff numbers.

“We would like to see ratios – as the number of kids in care or kids under investigations increases, the number of child safety workers automatically increases,” she said.

“This works in early childhood education and in hospitals.”

The other issue Ms White wanted to see resolved was better supporting staff undertaking the stressful and challenging positions.

“That includes increased training, better support around the mental health impacts of the job, and if necessary financial incentives to stay in the job,” she said.

“Given the nature of the work and how tough it is, that’s fair to workers but also really important because otherwise we’re not managing the health and safety risks that come with this kind of work.”

Ms White said she had spoken with the minister, and wanted to work with the government on improvements around recruitment and retention of staff.

She also called for more transparency around the number of job vacancies, and how many children are waiting to be assigned to a child safety worker so staffing can be better organised.

“These children in transition – they’re essentially lined up waiting for support, if we could physically see that out the front of a child safety office I think we’d think really differently here,” she said.

“This is a job where there is quite high turnover due to its nature, and we should have enough child safety workers so that we can deal with changes in demand, and that when someone goes on leave that someone is ready to step up and support these kids.

“It’s unfair to staff and to children at risk.”

When asked if the government would commit to more funding for the sector, Minister for Children and Youth Sarah Courtney reiterated an investment in 2018/19, as well as continuing the redesign of Strong Families Safe Kids.

“We will continue to do all we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable children, young people and families,” she said.

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