Child protection workers and foster carers held a candlelight vigil outside Parliament House on September 9, to draw attention to a “dangerously overstretched” child protection system.
Community and Public Sector Union, Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA) secretary Rikki Hendon reported that the total number of child protection cases has rocketed from 5762 in 2014 to 8336 in 2020 — a huge 44% increase. Meanwhile, staff numbers rose by just 10%.
As a result, child protection workers are carrying more cases than is safe and manageable. As of April, 69 child protection workers carried in excess of 15 cases each, the official maximum established by orders of the Western Australia Industrial Relations Commission.
These figures become even more overwhelming when you consider that one “case” can refer, not just to an individual child, but to an entire family unit. This can result in a child protection worker juggling upwards of 40 children with complex needs.
Due to under-resourcing, child protection workers now face a situation where, every month, they must move cases from their own caseload to the “monitoring” list.
Vulnerable children on the monitored list receive no active caseworker support as there is no budget to care for them. This monitoring list currently comprises 857 child protection cases.
“Sometimes critical things do get missed,” Becky Anderson, child protection worker and CPSU/CSA vice-president, told the crowd. “Our demands are not about comfort. Turn-over and burn-out are a major challenge for us”. Nonetheless, Anderson vowed they will never surrender. “We are stronger because we know the value of social support. Vulnerable WA kids deserve the best care available.”
Child protection minister Simone McGurk said the government is considering additional resources, in the form of an additional 183 full-time equivalent staff this financial year. McGurk also spoke of additional resources going into early intervention and family and domestic violence.
In the face of her insistence that the state government is doing everything it can, a protestor responded: “We feel lost in the bureaucracy; we don’t feel heard anymore”.
The Every Child Counts Campaign is demanding that: every child be allocated a case worker; there be no “monitoring” list; the department be properly resourced; there be a dedicated foster care team to provide more support for carers; and a family domestic violence team that can respond rapidly and link families to support services.