Pressure from child protection caseload in Victoria puts workforce at risk

A young Victorian Southwest couple caring for two young children say they feel let down by the state’s child welfare system.

One of the caregivers, who could not be identified, said they were “literally looking at these abused children”.

They took the children of a dangerous family member on the advice of the hospital and area children’s services this year.

But they said they had waited weeks to be contacted again, but that only happened after contacting their local MP.

They did not receive a social worker for almost a month.

And they are not alone.

Children “at risk” cared for by the family

The state’s auditor general raised concerns about the government’s new family care model, which he said was failing young people, in a damning report tabled in parliament this week.

Kinship care occurs when family members or people outside of a child’s or family’s social network provide support to a young person who cannot live with their parents.

The results showed that the Department of Families, Equity and Housing could not be assured that timely, safe and stable placements for at-risk children and young people were being provided because it was not monitoring them properly.

Only 14.2% of kinship care assessments were able to meet goals to verify within a week whether a placement was safe and could meet a child’s needs.

In addition, less than one percent of annual assessments to verify a child’s progress, well-being, and development and placement stability in care were completed on time.

Kinship care is the fastest growing form of out-of-home care in Victoria.(Source: Unsplash)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were significantly overrepresented in family care and were 20 times more likely to be in family care than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“There was no support”

For the young caregiver from the South West and her partner, the care of relatives was isolating and overwhelming.

“We called child services up to 15 times in the first few weeks with no response,” the carer said.

They spent thousands of dollars in three months buying the kids clothes, school supplies and taking them on dates.

“Our groceries went up $250 a week, the bills more than doubled, we had to cut back on work because the kids needed constant supervision, and I had to postpone college,” she said. declared.

“We heard from their social worker maybe once a week at most; every time we tried to talk to her she was in court or busy with other matters.”

She said the social worker was too busy.

Kinship care is the fastest growing form of out-of-home care in Victoria and between 2017 and 2021 it has increased by 33.2%, from 5,577 to 7,429 children in care. charge.

Shadow child protection minister Matt Bach, who was placed in foster care as a child, said carers needed a lot more support.

“If we’re going to continue to seek to engage family members wherever we can – and I think that’s the right thing to do – they need the right support,” he said. .

“They need a lot of support to give this vulnerable child in their current care the best chance possible to deal with the trauma that every child in the care system has gone through, to eventually be able to move on and hopefully be able to move on. ‘flourish.’

Shortages impact mental health

Child protection union representatives said the high number of cases was having a negative impact on the mental health of the workforce.

Last year, there were more than 121,000 reports of child safety issues and only 1,700 workers.

Community and Public Sector Union Victoria branch secretary Karen Batt said staff retention was the biggest challenge.

“The demand is phenomenal,” she said.

“The government has increased the number of funded positions to 2,200, but there is a vacancy rate of up to 600 positions in Victoria.

She said it was an unmanageable workload.

overworked
Union representatives say social workers have an unmanageable workload.(Source: Unsplash)

“Some don’t even make it to the system.”

Investigation into “toxic” culture

An investigation is underway at the Warrnambool Family, Equity and Housing Branch after recent complaints about the culture of the workforce.

A child protection worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said multiple complaints about the workplace’s “toxic” culture prompted the review.

There were a number of child protection vacancies and large unassigned lists in the Wimmera South West area, including 12 vacancies in Horsham.

Warrnambool DFFH Office
Complaints about workplace culture are investigated at the Department’s Warrnambool branch. (ABC South West Victoria: Kyra Gillespie)

“The burnout is real, after about nine months people go out,” the worker said.

“At the moment the system is just a band-aid over a bullet wound.”

A department spokesperson said the government had invested in recruiting 1,180 additional frontline child protection workers, with incentives for those willing to move to regional areas.

He said the department has accepted all 12 recommendations made by the auditor general and will take action by June 2023.

“We know we have to do better for family carers,” he said.

“The action plan will help identify kinship networks earlier and improve caregiver support, mandatory assessments and measurement and reporting of the quality of kinship care.”

Michael A. Bynum