Child abuse cases in the Illawarra and South Coast region have jumped almost 35 per cent in 12 months, contributing to a nationwide rise in the number of child abuse and neglect victims.
Figures released this week by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services show almost 400 more children in the southern region - which includes the Illawarra, South Coast, Goulburn and Queanbeyan - were found to have been harmed or be at serious risk of harm in 2011-12 compared with the previous year.
There were 1545 abused or neglected children in the region, up from 1146 children in 2010-11.
The latest figures showed the region's children were abused, neglected or known to be at risk at more than double the rate of both western and south-western Sydney.
Public Services Association assistant secretary Steve Turner, who represents community services case workers, said the figures were "extremely distressing" for workers on the frontline.
"We are concerned about these figures rising but it supports what we have been saying about needing better resources for child protection," Mr Turner said.
Last August, Coniston case workers walked off the job to protest the "tragic and avoidable" death of a two-year-old Berkeley boy who had been reported as being at risk of abuse.
The toddler arrived at Wollongong Hospital unconscious and was unable to be saved.
Mr Turner said there was still a high case worker vacancy rate in Wollongong's community services offices and more staff were needed to address the rise in child abuse cases.
Barnados South Coast senior manager Kerry Moore said the figures were a "wake-up call" for those in the community sector.
"These are kids who are being seriously abused or neglected, and it's always alarming for anybody working in this area to see that figure has increased in 12 months," she said.
"We want to know why this is happening, because it's an awful lot of kids who are actually being seriously harmed."
She said drug, alcohol and foster care programs at the charity's Warrawong centre were always at capacity, but noted changing standards and reporting practices influenced the number of people needing Barnados services.
"It would be hard to definitively say that we have noticed an increase on the ground in this region but we have continually high demand on our programs that deal with families where there has been substantiated neglect," she said.
"However, it is possible that the rise could be because of increased awareness, reporting or usage of our programs."
The NSW figures echo findings of a national report that show the number of child abuse and neglect victims in Australia rose 20 per cent last year.
The report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found the number of children involved in substantiated cases of abuse and neglect increased to 37,781 in 2011-12.
The spike reverses a decline in cases of abuse and neglect, which had been falling since 2008-09.