Shocking caseloads of WA child protection workers revealed

Shocking caseloads of WA child protection workers revealed

Republished from The West Australian

Child protection workers in WA are being forced to juggle the cases of 40 different kids in care at any given time, with the Department of Communities accused of using “creative accounting” in an attempt to mask the actual figures.

The claims come after The West Australian revealed the case of Child RM, a 17-year-old in state care who took her own life after experiencing homelessness and sexual abuse.

Child RM, who would regularly run away care, had 57 different placements before she died in 2017.

Her older sister told The West Australian the constant shifting around had a mental toll on Child RM.

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As well as splitting up the siblings, who were so close they were “like twins”, they regularly had case workers who were in different towns to them.

This included one in Perth while they were in Geraldton and one in Geraldton when they were in Port Hedland.

Community and Public Sector Union branch secretary Rikki Hendon, whose union represents child protection workers, said they were carrying “more cases than is safe and manageable”.

While the WA Industrial Relations Commission has previously ruled that workers should not have more than 15 cases each at any given time, figures obtained by the union found in April 2020 there were 69 child protection workers with more than this.

“These figures become even more overwhelming when you discover that one ‘case’ can refer not only to an individual child, but an entire family unit,” Ms Hendon said.

“This means that at any time, a child protection worker holding 15 cases might be juggling upwards of 40 children with complex needs. Just one of these children experiencing an emergency can demand the majority of the working week.”

She said as a community we had an “opportunity to learn” from the tragic case of Child RM and choose to take “collective responsibility for our State’s most at risk children”.

“Child RM is not the first young person failed by our child protection system. WA child protection workers tell me she won’t be the last,” Ms Hendon said.

When asked by The West Australian about staff juggling “40 kids” at once, Communities assistant director-general Jackie Tang said the department “continues to actively engage with the union on caseloads.”

“Workload management and case allocations are monitored through regular supervision between Child Protection Workers and their Team Leader. Child protection staff are required to engage in supervision with their line manager monthly, and more frequently for new staff or where deemed necessary,” Ms Tang said.

“Communities’ executive directors and regional executive directors with oversight of child protection functions meet monthly to review workload management.”

Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk said the Department had worked with the union since 2002 to create "a workload management system for child protection workers" which was formalised through the 2007 Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission Order.

"The management of child protection caseloads within the Department of Communities is in accordance with the 2007 order, which states that qualified case workers can hold up to 15 child protection cases, and up to 18 cases in certain circumstances," she said.

“This is practice that is not only used around the country, but internationally recognised in similar jurisdictions."

She said the Department had implemented a "State-wide relieving team" in recognition of the "fluctuating demands of child protection work".

She said the union had "ample opportunity to raise these issues with me directly or via the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission, and they have done neither".

“We are working on a number of significant reforms to improve the child protection system. This includes working with the union, foster families and other stakeholders to deliver ongoing operational improvements," she said.

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Republished from The West Australian by Annabelle Hennessy