Staffing levels 'not to blame' for boy's death

NSW Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said case worker shortages aren't to blame for the death of a Wollongong toddler, accusing the opposition of "playing emotional games with the death of a child".

The boy was reported to the Department of Community Services three times in the five weeks before his death in August last year, suffering extensive bruising and human bite marks.

Details of his case led to a strike by child protection workers in Wollongong over staffing levels, it was revealed last week.

In question time yesterday, Labor MP Linda Burney said staff shortages at the Wollongong Community Service Centre had reached "chronic levels".

"Will you reverse your $500-million cuts to the community services budget," she asked Ms Goward.

The minister said "every death of a child was a tragedy" but she rejected claims that staff shortages were to blame.

"To blame it on a factious claim about a vacancy rate, that is not correct, [it] is another example of the moral bankruptcy of those opposite," she said.

"The vacancy rate is the lowest it's been."

Ms Goward was asked about reports the boy's plight was discussed at a meeting of child protection workers a day before he died, but it wasn't allocated to a worker because other cases were considered an even higher priority.

Labor Wollongong MP Noreen Hay said she had been told the vacancy rate had climbed to 28 per cent since then.

"The 28 per cent alleged vacancy rate is not something we can substantiate," Ms Goward told the lower house.

"Vacancy rates go up and down, as they always have, as they did under you, as they will under us and of course the total number of case workers across the state has not changed, which is the lowest it's been in a decade."

Ms Goward said the death of a child was "a terrible coincidence of circumstance".

"You can never ascribe the death of a child to any one factor," she said. 

AAP

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