Staff crisis: FACS workers fear another Illawarra tragedy

FACS workers are "extremely concerned that another tragedy is just around the corner.'' File picture.

FACS workers are "extremely concerned that another tragedy is just around the corner.'' File picture.

Child protection workers in the Illawarra walked off the job on Wednesday amid concerns a critical shortage of carers is placing vulnerable children at risk.

Fears another tragedy involving a child under the Department of Family and Community Service's care is "just around the corner" saw staff at the Coniston office stop work for an hour.

The 20 worker-strong action followed a similar move last year, triggered by the "tragic and avoidable" death of a Berkeley boy in August 2012.

The two-year-old had been reported to the department three times in the five weeks before he died, with pleas at the time for the state government to come clean on chronic staff shortages.

On Wednesday, Public Service Association (PSA) assistant general-secretary Steve Turner said staffing issues hadn't changed.

"Eighteen months later it's shocking that community services are still not staffing you all properly and for you to learn you're about to lose 10 further positions from this region," he told staff.

Minutes earlier he was informed that just one in five Illawarra children at risk were currently getting face-to-face visits.

"That just shows how appalling the staffing is and the urgency [needed] that this government listens and starts to resource community services better," he said.

"We want no more of the shocking incidents that occur and you need to be resourced properly."

Mr Turner said members had had enough.

"They are extremely concerned that another tragedy is just around the corner," he said.

The department's Illawarra Shoalhaven District director Gary Groves said the organisation was "working hard to improve the response rate and develop a child protection system that would "enhance the supports caseworkers need to see more children".

He said the region was "well-placed to sustain caseworker numbers, at the funded level, over the long term".

Mr Groves said in the Illawarra Shoalhaven district, there were now 113 full-time equivalent caseworkers compared to 109 back in March 2014, six more than the funded base.

Although most recent department figures confirm a "decrease in the caseworker vacancy rate" for the district, Mr Turner said the rate was almost impossible to determine under the current data collection model.

PSA delegate Frank Kovic said the government agreed last year to provide 10 additional positions for the district that were dedicated until at least June 2015.

He said last week staff received information the jobs were "no longing coming" and, just this week, consultants "to help improve capacity to see more clients" visited the office.

"We are dedicated to working with difficult situations and people in need, especially children, and if we don't have adequate staffing there's no way we can do our job," Mr Kovic said.

"It's not about keeping our jobs ... it's about protecting children in the community ... if we don't have adequate staffing of course we can't do that."

Read Mr Groves' full response

Family and Community Services is working hard to improve the response rate and develop a child protection system that will go to enhance the supports caseworkers need to see more children.

The latest Community Services dashboard for the June 2014 quarter shows that the FACS Illawarra Shoalhaven District is well placed to sustain caseworker numbers, at the funded level, over the long term.

The latest dashboard which was published on the FACS website on 30 August confirms a decrease in the caseworker vacancy rate for the Illawarra Shoalhaven District.

In the Illawarra Shoalhaven District, there are now 113 full time equivalent caseworkers compared to 109 back in March 2014, that is six more than the funded base.

The NSW Government has delivered a budget which will continue to strengthen the child protection system and empower our caseworkers.

Under the Safe Home for Life reforms, the Government will invest half a billion dollars over four years to improve the system, and give children and young people the best chance at a better future.

Furthermore, FACS will continue to fill caseworker positions right across the State.

The September 2014 quarter caseworker dashboard will be released in late November. The caseworker dashboard is reviewed independently by Deloitte.

FACS is not permitted to publicly comment about whether an individual child or their family is known to our agency.

Our caseworkers are on the job and we are strengthening the child protection system to ensure that children remain at the centre of our practice with families.

We understand that the department’s statutory requirement to preserve the privacy of a family or comply with relevant court orders will at times conflict with requests for information about incidents relating a child.

Gary Groves, District Director, Illawarra Shoalhaven District

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