CRISIS POINT: Fams' latest report indicates a growing rate of children at risk in the child protection system on the Mid North Coast.
CRISIS POINT: Fams' latest report indicates a growing rate of children at risk in the child protection system on the Mid North Coast. Thinkstock

Children on the coast the system has forgotten

THE Mid North Coast has been found to have a trouble-plagued child protection system.

A new report based on government data reveals there is a 14 per cent shortfall in child protection case workers - almost five times the state average of 3 per cent.

Children across the region have been found to be 57 per cent more likely to be considered 'at risk of harm' than the NSW average and 47 per cent are more likely to be in out-of-home care.

Every year in NSW, 30,000 children are deemed at risk, and advocacy body Fams has called on the government to listen to the cries for help within the child protection sector.

While the government has committed $370 million in cross-agency funding to its program Their Futures Matter, "it's too heavily focused on catching people who fall through the cracks, not catching them in an early intervention safety net," Fams says in its report findings.

The report also highlights the need for drastic changes to be made in how at-risk children are addressed by the system.

Victims of their family circumstances, vulnerable children across New South Wales are increasingly being placed at risk, it has been found.

On the Mid North Coast in mainly low socio-economic households, statistics show there's a higher percentage of children in harms way and, as this new report highlights, on the coast there is also a shortfall in child protection case workers.

Drawing on readily available statistics, Fams a Sydney-based advocacy body has called for the State Government to provide a greater focus on Targeted Early Intervention to address an out-of-home care crisis.

Other key recommendations of its report call for more transparent, regular and independent publication of child protection data and opportunities for targeted and timely responses to stabilise families lost in a data vacuum.

The advocacy group says this would move the focus from the crisis end, to data-driven prevention strategies.

"Vulnerable children are kept safe by quality services, delivered by a sector that is supported by sound policy-making, which helps kids when and where they need it," Fams CEO Julie Hourigan Ruse said.

"But for 30,000 children each year in NSW, they are not receiving that quality service.

"A phone call is made, an assessment of Risk Of Significant Harm is substantiated, but no one responds or offers the kids or families help.

"The issue is compounded in the Mid North Coast region, where there is a 14 per cent shortfall in child protection case workers, which is nearly five times worse than the average three per cent shortfall across the state.

"At the same time, children in the region are 57 per cent more likely to be considered at risk of harm, and 47 per cent more likely to be experiencing out-of-home care," she said.

A Family and Community Services spokesperson responded to the report's release today.

"For the second year in a row the number of children entering care in NSW has fallen," a FACS spokesperson said.

"Frontline caseworkers are now seeing almost one in three children as a statewide average, compared to one in five in 2010.   

"Frontline caseworkers have also seen a record number of children reported at risk of significant harm - with 15,000 additional children seen in 2016-17 compared to 2010-11."  

As recommended by the Tune Review, the NSW Government is redesigning the child protection and wellbeing service system to ensure vulnerable children and families receive the right response at the right time.

"That redesign will focus on ensuring that an appropriate response is provided to every child reported at risk of significant harm, with a goal to increase the number of children receiving face to face assessments by FACS caseworkers and through the Permanency Support Program embed permanency and early intervention principles into casework," the FACs spokesperson said.

"There has also been a record level of investment to reform the system and support our most vulnerable children and families.   

"On top of increased investment in previous Budgets, the 2018-19 Budget will invest an additional $59 million over four years to help protect vulnerable children and young people and find a safe home for life, by adding 100 more child protection staff and setting a target of more than 1,000 open adoptions in the next four years."  

The Department indicated the 2018/19 FACS Budget also includes: 

  •  $149.5 million in early intervention services for parenting, youth, family support and community development
  • $63 million for Brighter Futures and Safe Care to deliver services to families for children who are at high risk of entering or escalating within the statutory child protection system.
  • $39.2 million to help keep families together through evidence based models as part of Their Future Matters reforms, including through family preservation models to help at least 900 families a year, half of which are Aboriginal families. This is a $190 million investment over four years.