Child protection workers with more than 60 years of collective experience say they are being actively discouraged from taking children, particularly adolescents, into care because of the high costs involved.
While there are no written rules governing the practice, they say they can no longer take children at risk into care without the approval of a regional manager.
One case worker with 36 years' experience said the cost of taking children into care can be tens of thousands of dollars each month.
"The government is turning a blind eye to bringing kids into care because the costs are too considerable," he said.
"[It] is making a budget decision to save money on the number of children with challenging behaviours going into care. The push is to keep kids out of care because they can cost us $30,000 a month for residential care in the non-government sector."
The caseworker said there was a shortage of foster carers which had led to some poor decisions about where children were being placed. He said siblings were often separated, and approval was needed from a Department of Community Services district manager before a child could be brought into state care.
He said caseworkers were encouraged to "fob off" adolescents to youth refuges.
"Approval to bring kids into care has to get escalated to the district directors who control the budgets.
"That has been happening for the last 2½ years. The push is to keep kids out of care."
Another caseworker with 25 years' experience said it was almost impossible to bring a child over the age of 12 into state care.
"It's a lot harder to remove children now. It has to be escalated up to the manager," she said.
Another senior caseworker had been unable to help a 13-year-old girl brought into temporary care multiple times.
"I had to escalate it to my regional manager to get approval.
"They overturned my decision to take her into care and she was sent back to her mum."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Family and Community Services said "cost is not the determining factor in bringing a child into care" and the department's preference was for children to remain safely at home with their families.