Illawarra's vulnerable children remain at risk: PSA

Caseworkers from Coniston and Shellharbour joined colleagues from across the state to walk off the job for an hour on Thursday. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER
Caseworkers from Coniston and Shellharbour joined colleagues from across the state to walk off the job for an hour on Thursday. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

The Illawarra’s most vulnerable children remain at risk as chronic under-resourcing plagues the Community Services sector, the Public Service Association says.

Caseworkers in Coniston and Shellharbour joined colleagues from across the state to walk off the job for an hour on Thursday.

About 40 PSA members hit the street in Coniston, angry at the NSW government’s failure to properly resource child protection. 

According to the union, government figures released last week reveal just one in four children reported as at risk of serious harm are being seen by caseworkers. 

‘‘There’s three other children that don’t get a look in, so abuse or all sorts of things could be happening to the children but we’re unable to get out there,’’ PSA union delegate and senior child protection caseworker Frank Kovic said.

‘‘We are the body responsible for protecting children in NSW, if the government chooses not to give us the resources well we can’t do our job.

‘‘The government has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our community and that is our children.’’ 

The government’s own “caseworker dashboard” shows the number of children being reported at risk has risen by 21 per cent in the past two years.

PSA Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner said 2 1/2 years after the walkouts over under-resourcing and lack of staffing began in Coniston nothing had changed.

‘‘They’ve still got the same problem and the government is not responding,’’ Mr Turner said.

“The PSA calls upon Premier [Mike] Baird to immediately address the real issues to prevent the tragedy of any child falling through what are increasingly wide cracks.’’

Mr Kovic said caseworkers were the ‘‘last resort out there to argue for the children, because nobody else is’’. 

‘‘I haven’t heard anything from the opposition or Mr Baird in relation to the issues we face,’’ he said.

‘‘If Baird wants to sell the [electricity] poles, give us a couple of those poles so we can employ more staff. 

‘‘How come a road is more important than looking after the welfare of our children?’’

In a statement, Family and Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton said the caseworker vacancy rate of 13 per cent under Labor had now been more than halved to 5 per cent.

Ms Upton said an additional half a billion dollars over four years had been allocated to the child protection system as part of the government’s reforms.