The OOHC outsourcing fiasco is occurring during an underfunded crisis leaving Caseworkers and other Child Protection staff burnt out.
In the past year, the vacancy rate for Caseworkers has increased by 250 per cent, with 166 vacancies reported in June 2023. The Department of Communities and Justice is losing more Caseworkers than it is employing, with a net loss in 2022-23 of 22 staff. Aboriginal staff are leaving at a higher rate, a crisis when their cultural knowledge is so vital to a community so heavily involved in the Child Protection system.
The result is a workforce of relatively inexperienced Caseworkers, with more than a quarter still in their first two years of employment with the Department.
A report found low staffing numbers are believed to be among of the reasons for some of the deaths of children known to Child Protection 2022.
“Our grading is woefully outdated. We need to be paid commensurate with the work we do,” said Allison Corrigan, Secretary of the Community Services Departmental Committee.
“The starting wage of a Caseworker is $75,992. In comparison, the starting wage of staff doing similar work in Youth Justice is $100,011. This is despite the fact we need tertiary qualifications, and Caseworkers in Youth Justice do not.”
The PSA CPSU NSW has written to the Government demanding higher band levels for workers starting careers in the Child Protection system.
“We need higher wages to attract and retain staff,” said PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little. “A PSA evaluation found these staff are underpaid.”
The Child Protection system has seen an increase in Level One cases, which require investigation within 24 hours. For example, this could be a response to sexual assault allegations. However, the system simply does not have the staff to deal with this explosion in numbers.
“We have never seen it taking so long to respond to Levels One, Two and Three,” said one member. “For example, a Level One could take more than a week; a Level Two, which should be investigated within 72 hours, could take three weeks; and a Level Three can take months instead of the required 10 days.
“Now we have no Caseworkers, I recently went out to a case with non-government worker who was not trained as a Caseworker. She was supposed to be my secondary worker, but did not work for the Government and her notes won’t hold up in court if it gets there.”
PSA CPSU NSW Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright said the Minister needs to put more money into the right parts of the system, therefore cutting this huge outsourcing bill.
“The problems are well documented,” he said. “We have to snap this loss of staff.”
He said hiring more staff will free Caseworkers to do their jobs. However, with the average Caseworker quitting after 18 months on the job, Mr Wright said the Minister needs to look at making the job more attractive by raising salary levels.
“There is a risk otherwise that Community Services becomes something akin to the fifth year of a Social Work degree,” he said. “Then people just leave for a better-paid job elsewhere and the Department has to retrain yet another employee at yet more expense.
“This is not a section of the Public Sector the Government can afford to ignore. Even the most ardent free market zealot would agree that caring for vulnerable kids is a key responsibility of the state. We need to do better.”
Due to a shortage of support staff, Caseworkers are struggling as administrative work keeps them from working with children.
“I’m holding a complex Aboriginal family, with secured records, making my job harder as I can’t get support from other staff to assist with administrative tasks, keeping me from my actual role,” said one member. “My to-do list is exploding, and I can’t get the help required.
“This family requires weekly visits, but the location of the placement means I have a three- to four-hour turnaround just to visit them: that does not even include the time required to write up what is going on.
“This is keeping me from seeing other siblings in the same family.
“Of six children, four are in placement. Some of the carers are neglectful simply because the pool of people the children can go to is so shallow.
“We need to attend to the children, yet still have to read reports from parents. I’m up working until 1:30am some mornings. Then I am offered a late start the following day, but with so much on my plate, there is no way I can take that up.
“The reality is that our hours are exploding daily, yet we have to fight for overtime. It is nothing short of wage theft.
“The community needs to know that Child Protection is run in a way that staff are just too scared to raise issues for fear of being labelled a troublemaker.”