Sunday 21 April 2024

Contact 1800 772 679

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

Child Protection In Crisis

The PSA will not give up on children in peril.

The previous issue of Red Tape highlighted the serious plight the NSW Child Protection system is in. Community Services is underfunded, with wages too low to attract and retain the number of staff required to protect children in need in the state. The starting wage of a Child Protection Worker in NSW is $75,992, much less than in similar roles in other agencies.

“Wages in the private sector are higher, and usually accompany lighter workloads, so it is little wonder we see a drain of talent from the agency,” said PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little. “As we pointed out last issue, too often people look at their time in Community Services as an unofficial fifth year of their degree before heading off to another role. “And the Department is struggling to replace them.

“Of course, the previous government’s wages cap kept Public Sector salaries down across the board, but we believe these workers should be starting on higher grades.

Wages are just one of the issues making life tough for Community Services members. The sector is also plagued by one of the most appalling examples of the state’s addiction to outsourcing; the use of non-government organisations (NGOs) instead of Public Sector workers.

Even worse, NGOs have the right to refuse cases, so they can simply not take on children with complex needs.

The agency is struggling to cope with the task at hand. For example, more than 76 per cent of children and young people who were reported as at risk of significant harm from October 2022 to September 2023 last year received no visit by a Case Worker.

The PSA is launching a campaign to improve the system in which our members in Child Protection work. Called Child Protection in Crisis, the campaign will highlight a system that is struggling to keep up with the needs of children in need of Out of Home Care.

“The campaign will go beyond our membership, letting the wider community and the media know there is a crisis in the NSW Child Protection system,” said PSA CPSU NSW Industrial Manager Thane Pearce.

The PSA CPSU NSW has had success getting the message out to the press.

Mr Little was quoted extensively in The Daily Telegraph in early March.

“Our legal team is ready to run a work- value case through the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to get fair pay for these workers, but that will take 12 months, and kids in need can’t wait that long – the system is in crisis now,” Mr Little said. “But we shouldn’t have to run a case; the government should simply give them a proper pay bump just like they gave paramedics and teachers last year.

But we are ready to pull the trigger on legal action in the Commission to get this resolved if we must.”

Mr Little has also had plenty of radio time on the matter, talking to the ABC and 2GB’s Ray Hadley, who agreed with the PSA that the outsourcing model had failed children needing care and the taxpayer.

The campaign follows years of lobbying of Kate Washington (below), both when she was Opposition Family Services Spokesperson and when she was the portfolio’s Minister.

Ms Washington has visited PSA House on several occasions to hear members’ concerns and their stories from the front-line.

At a recent meeting, Ms Washington said “reform is not possible without the workforce to implement it” and vowed to work alongside the PSA to win improvements. She had heard from Delegates about the struggles they have. “I’m passionate and I want to stay, but most days it is a challenge,” said one Delegate in the room.

“The whole system is cancerous,” Departmental Committee Chair Allison Corrigan told the Minister.

Mr Little said the Minister needs to address issues with NGOs. However, he acknowledged the Minns Government’s options are limited, as the previous government signed contracts with the NGOs that will remain in place until 2027.

The Minister agreed, saying “we inherited really poor outcomes for kids and enormous expenditure beyond budget”.

Mr Little later acknowledged that while the Minister is listening to the union, the PSA CPSU NSW has no other option than to campaign and take industrial action if required.

“We want what’s best for our members and what is best for the children they are working with,” he said. “There can be few public roles more important than the care of children in crisis. Child Protection in Crisis is a campaign that will speak for them.”

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