The government department in charge of children's welfare is unable to protect the state's children, according to a scathing report by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour, leading to calls for the sacking of minister Pru Goward.
The report into child protection, which covers Ms Goward's time as community services minister, found that 75,000 cases of reported abuse never received a face to face assessment by a caseworker.
While the figures were an improvement on three years ago, Mr Barbour found that the Department of Family and Community Services cannot cope with the number of reports it received. He was critical of the department's ability to work with police and the departments of health and education to safeguard children.
''There is inadequate capacity to protect children from harm in the system,'' he said.
''Even with additional resources, Community Services is not going to be able to have the capacity to deal with all the children that are reported at risk of significant harm. We have been calling for many years for 'intelligence-based' child protection systems (involving other government departments).''
On Thursday night Ms Goward expressed relief that the number of children being checked face-to-face had increased.
''Thank God it hasn't gone down,'' Ms Goward said.
Opposition community services spokeswoman Linda Burney said it made a mockery of Ms Goward's promise to protect children.
''The last three years have just been a litany of failures,'' she said. ''The minister has lost the confidence of caseworkers and the public. This report leaves her position untenable and it's time for Pru Goward to go.''
Mr Barbour has recommended the department fill the longstanding vacant caseworker positions, running as high as 40 per cent in some offices.
The review of the child protection system, which examined changes between 2010-11 and 2012-13, found that only 28 per cent of the 104,000 reports of abuse received face-to-face investigation, compared with 21 per cent three years ago.
''It looks as though Community Services really won't be able to respond with face to face
assessments in a percentage of cases that they ought be able to do,'' Mr Barbour said. ''We have 104,000 reports and only 30,000 are receiving that level of assessment. That's a problem.''
According to estimates from the Public Service Association, 45,000 children reported to be at significant risk of harm did not receive a personal safety check from a community services caseworker last year.
Adolescents were less likely to receive a visit, with only only one in five at-risk teens getting a face to face assessment in 2012-13.
Children in greater metropolitan Sydney, Nepean-Blue Mountains and Western Sydney were least likely to receive personal help, with about one in five getting an assessment.
Mr Barbour also questioned why 40,000 cases had been closed with little intervention due to ''competing priorities''.
''They are closing the files and they have indicated that there may be a non-government service involved, there might be other actions under way but they can't actually indicate what they are,'' he said.
''There has to be much better reporting, governance and accountability around those issues.''
While the report found the number of caseworkers had increased to 1834 in 2013, there was still a shortfall of more than 230 positions which Mr Barbour has recommended filling with priority to longstanding vacancies.
He was particularly critical of staff who failed to report serious cases of abuse to police and has recommended more inter-agency co-operation.
''We think there is room for significant improvement,'' he said.
Ms Goward indicated support for better co-operation with other departments and non-government organisations. ''This is the hardest thing to do but we have to get better at it,'' she said.
Ms Burney said the report revealed the number of face to face assessments had increased from 20,000 to 29,000 cases, but the total number of assessments had fallen from 53,000 to 52,000.
She said a dangerous trend had also emerged in the number of children being referred for further assessment falling from 33,076 to 23,439 between 2010-11 and 2012-13.
''The report's most alarming revelation is the massive rise in the number of cases being prematurely closed because of insufficient resources,'' Ms Burney said. ''More than 40,000 vulnerable children are having their cases quietly buried and shredded. It is evidence of something deeply, deeply wrong,'' she said.
''To close that many cases is horrendous for case workers.''
Public Service Association assistant secretary Steve Turner said that while the Ombudsman had noted an improvement in child visitation rates, it was not good enough that only 28 per cent of significant harm reports received a face to face assessment.
''That means you will still see tragic outcomes,'' Mr Turner said.