The region's child protection workers are seeing only 5 per cent of cases referred to their unit as they struggle to keep up with the number of reports that flood their office every week.
An Illawarra caseworker, who asked not to be identified, said that on average there were 20 new cases referred to his child protection unit each week but dozens of briefs were never allocated, due to lack of staff.
The worker told the Mercury staff were lucky to see 5 per cent of cases, only taking on the most serious or those that required immediate court action.
The rest of the files, those graded less serious, were placed on a pile to look at again the following week.
Many cases were closed without ever being allocated, the worker said.
"If you don't have anyone to look at them, what can you do?
"We've been told the priority is the top 5 per cent of reports, which are those that are usually very serious or involve court action."
But the caseworker said many of the cases deemed only "concerning" later turned much more serious, sometimes ending tragically for families.
"Children are dying and they have died across different offices, it is common.
"I'm not saying these deaths can be blamed on a lack of staff but the impact is definitely greater, in terms of staff being able to get out to cases and assess situations."
The worker said a region-wide staff shortage had worsened in the past two years as the government failed to fill vacant positions, making it difficult for staff to take on new cases.
He said the strong focus on "arse-covering" administrative work had also prevented caseworkers from actually getting out and seeing children.
The caseworker said most child protection workers were juggling six to eight cases at once.
"Workers are stressed out by the very nature of what we do - we're dealing with challenging clients ... if something does happen and we have to take their children out of their care, you get a reaction - we've been threatened, abused and just experienced general negativity."
Goward again roasted over figures
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward has again been accused of misleading Parliament on caseworker numbers.
The NSW opposition repeated calls for her resignation after releasing a series of internal emails showing a drop in staff numbers at an office in Wollongong.
Following the death of two-year-old Zoran Ivanovski last month, Ms Goward told Parliament that not a single Wollongong worker had been cut.
Zoran was repeatedly reported to the department in the weeks before his death.
But the union claims they did not have the resources to follow it up because of staff cuts.
During question time yesterday, the opposition accused the minister of ‘‘spinning a web of deceit’’ ‘and ‘‘misleading’’ Parliament.
Mrs Goward fired back: ‘‘I think it is absolutely abhorrent that today Labor has politicised the tragic death of a child.’’ AAP