The Department of Family and Community Services has admitted to not filling caseworker vacancies to manage ''budget pressures'', despite state government assurances that staff shortages are not related to a lack of funding.
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward has repeatedly denied funding for caseworkers has been cut and that funding for 2068 caseworkers has been provided. But a report her department commissioned shows there were about 300 fewer caseworkers than budgeted.
A government briefing note from the department, dated August 29 this year, says ''there has been no freeze on recruitment for caseworkers but there has been a practice of not filling vacancies expediently to manage budget pressures''.
The document suggests the statutory child protection budget fell from $425 million in 2011-12 to $412 million in 2012-13.
But a spokesman for Ms Goward said the figures did not reflect the latest information from budget papers that show the funding for statutory child protection has risen to $445 million for 2013-14.
Ms Goward told Parliament on Thursday ''there has been no cut to the community services budget, indeed it went up by 4.3 per cent in the last financial year''.
''We budget for 2068 caseworkers and we expect those positions to be filled.''
Opposition Leader John Robertson said the internal briefing note of August 29 confirms caseworker vacancies are not being filled because of budget restrictions.
Ms Goward's department was forced to make savings of $23.4 million in 2012-13 as part of the government's labour expenses cap across all agencies.
''This briefing paper confirms Minister Goward is deliberately leaving caseworker positions vacant to save money, and in the process putting children reported to be at risk in serious danger,'' Mr Robertson said.
''Deliberately short-staffing child protection teams means there are fewer people to follow up on reports of children at serious risk of harm. The minister has completely failed in her responsibility to the vulnerable children of NSW.''
Ms Goward accused the opposition spokeswoman for family and community services, Linda Burney, of admitting ''children didn't matter'' after Labor MP Richard Amery accused the minister of not answering the question when she started talking about the number of children caseworkers were seeing compared with the number during Labor's term in office.
Ms Goward replied ''it is the important question'', to which Ms Burney returned, ''It is not important.'' Ms Burney later said she was trying to make the point that Ms Goward was not being relevant to the question she had been asked.