18 April 2024

Child protection caseworkers protest centre's closure as part of statewide industrial action

| James Day
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Troy Wright at the Edgeworth community service centre rally.

PSA Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright (left) joined Edgeworth caseworkers in calling for Premier Chris Minns to intervene in NSW’s “broken” child protection system. Photo: NSW PSA.

As part of a month-long campaign against what they say is chronic understaffing and burnout in the sector, child protection caseworkers gathered outside Edgeworth’s Community Services Centre today (18 April) to protest its planned closure.

Staff use the CSC to support and protect children at risk of harm in the area. Its proposed closure has inflamed their concerns and contributed to the NSW Public Service Associations’ (NSW PSA) statewide industrial action.

The month-long campaign began earlier this month, after PSA delegates from across NSW unanimously endorsed the union’s efforts to help them “fix” the state’s Child Protection system.

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In launching the ‘Child Protection in Crisis’ campaign, General Secretary Stewart Little said the PSA would commence a series of rolling stop-work meetings across the state and escalate as necessary.

“The government knows Community Services is experiencing an unprecedented attraction-and-retention crisis, with one in four positions unfilled in some regions of the state,” said Mr Little. “That’s according to the department’s own figures.

“In many cases, the caseworkers who remain in the system are relatively inexperienced – with one in four staff in their first two years of employment with Community Services. Too often they are stranded with the extra workload of colleagues who have left.

“The most vulnerable kids in this state are at risk of serious harm, or worse, because Child Protection Workers just can’t cope – they’re understaffed, exhausted and see no other option than to take action.”

NSW PSA said new statistics showed three in four children reported as at risk of harm received no visit from Department of Communities and Justice caseworkers between 1 October 2022 to 30 September last year. They also claim the department’s own figures show the vacancy rate for caseworkers has increased exponentially in the past year, such that NSW is losing more staff than it is employing.

Child Services workers protest out the back of NSW Parliament.

Child Protection caseworkers gathered outside NSW Parliament for the statewide campaign’s launch. Photo: NSW PSA.

At a press conference following the launch, NSW Premier Chris Minns said the government wanted to work with the sector’s employees for a better outcome but there was no easy solution.

“The previous government’s reform attempts to outsource much of this work has meant that much of it doesn’t sit inside the government on the government books,” he said.

PSA Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright said while the current government didn’t create the mess, it was up to them to fix it.

“The most vulnerable children in NSW are at risk of serious harm, or even worse, because child protection caseworkers are chronically understaffed, exhausted and management just aren’t listening to their concerns,” said Mr Wright.

“But the response to this crisis by the Department of Communities and Justice management is to close offices rather than increase resources.”

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He said Mr Minns needed to immediately onboard another 500 child protection caseworkers to address the attraction and retention crisis in child protection, or else the system would collapse.

“These child protection caseworkers are passionate about their work, and they want … to know no urgent child protection responses will be impacted, and that skeleton staffing will be maintained at all times during this protest,” said Mr Wright.

“But they feel they have to do something as management just aren’t listening to their concerns.”

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