Tuesday 25 June 2024

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Contact 1800 772 679

The magazine of the Public Service Association of NSW and the Community and Public Sector Union (NSW Branch)

Child Protection In Crisis: PSA Members Take Action

Child Protection In Crisis: PSA Members Take Action

Caseworkers are fed up with low wages, overwork and an absurd system of outsourcing.

On a cloudy April afternoon in Edgeworth, in the Hunter Valley, PSA members in Community Services kicked off a statewide campaign to improve their working lives and the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in NSW.

Child Protection in Crisis is not just a catchy name for a campaign. It encapsulates what happens when wages are too low, when staff are overworked and when outsourcing inevitably fails.

The Department of Communities and Justice is losing more Child Protection Caseworkers than it is employing.

Employees are simply paid too little for the often-harrowing work. Wages are better for similar, and often less onerous, work in the non-government sector.

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.

Aboriginal staff are leaving at an even higher rate, which is bad news for a community over represented in the Child Protection system that is desperate for cultural understanding of cases.

“It is vital that Community Services attracts and retains staff,” said PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little. “And the best way to do that is to pay them decent wages.”

The low pay and overwork mean the average Caseworker leaves the job within 14 months of their starting date. The exacerbates the overwork problem for those remaining on site.

“It is a vicious cycle,” said Mr Little. “We need the Minister, Kate Washington, to break this downward spiral.”

The week before the Edgeworth walkout, the Child Protection in Crisis campaign was launched at the Tree of Knowledge, a site behind State Parliament and a favoured spot for political launches and press conferences.

 

Fronting the media, Mr Little laid out the issues facing members.

“We currently have a situation where we have upwards of 20 per cent vacancies for Caseworkers in Child Protection,” he said. “In some offices around the state, we have upwards of 60 per cent vacancies in those key areas in the Central West and in the Northern Rivers.

“That means that 14,000 kids that are out there aren’t being supported. It means the 130,000 kids out there that are being reported, aren’t being seen.”

Mr Little said despite the requirement for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse from Police Officers, Teachers and Nurses, only one child in four reported is actually seen by a Caseworker.

“The main cause of this is the privatisation of Out of Home Care,” said Mr Little. “It was privatised more than 10 years ago.”

Mr Little was joined at the launch by Caseworker and PSA Delegate Nin Bennett, who fronted the media to let them know how tough her working conditions are.

“There is just not enough of us to go and see children every single day to make sure they are safe and not at risk,” she said.

Another Delegate, Kate Birks said she has never seen the situation as bad as it is at present in the 20 years she has been a Caseworker.

“I’m terrified,” she said. “Especially for the children we have parental responsibility for.

“These children should be cared for as the Minister’s children.”

The televised launch of the campaign was just one component of the PSA CPSU NSW’s media blitz to alert NSW of the unfolding disaster.

The union received a front-page story in The Newcastle Herald the day of the Edgeworth action, as well as plenty of regional coverage. There was also a radio interview with Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright that opened with discussion on the closure of the Edgeworth Community Services Centre (CSC).

“The issue here is obviously cost-cutting,” said Mr Wright. “This cost-cutting would have a significant impact on local services.

“That office is based there for a reason. It is not being closed due to a lack of demand for those services.

“People who have to access the Child Protection Office will not be able to do that and will have to travel to Charleston or Mayfield. That is a signifiant impost on those families.”

The success of the Edgeworth protest led the way. Around the state, Child Protection Caseworkers walked off the job in different centres, attracting the attention of local media throughout the state. On 8 May, Child Protection Caseworkers state-wide walked, attracting a huge amount of media coverage, both in print and on the air.

“The system is broken and is harming children and workers,” said Delegate and PSA Vice President Allison Corrigan, herself a Child Protection Caseworker. “Our members are passionate, dedicated and committed to working with children. But they need to work in a safe and respectful system.

“The Child Protection system needs to support both children and workers.”

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