Unions and the social service sector have welcomed money in the Tasmanian budget for the state’s child protection system, but said more needed to be done on early intervention and staff retention in the troubled sector.
Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch said there would be $24 million in this week’s budget over the forward estimates for a redesign of the child protection system, announced after a series of failings in the system in 2015.
Mr Jaensch said the money would allow up to 25 more child safety officers and support staff to be employed, and would also provide for more complex care packages for children in out-of-home care.
“It’s an admission that the redesign is a long-term process which will ultimately result in there being fewer kids moving into state care,” Mr Jaensch said.
“In the meantime, we have to deal with the kids that we’ve got.
“Nothing is more important to us as a society than the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable children.”
Mr Jaensch could not provide any detail on how many vacancies there were in the child protection system.
Too little, too late: Labor
The Labor Opposition has previously called for an extra 20 child safety officers.
Opposition Leader Rebecca White said she was pleased the Government was investing in frontline staff, but it had taken too long.
“We’ve seen as many as 400 notifications made to Child Protection in the recent months that have been unable to be addressed by staff because there simply aren’t enough people in the workforce,” Ms White said.
She said the Government would find it hard to recruit because the service had been under-resourced for so long that even existing staff were nervous and stressed about working there.
Kym Goodes says more children and young people are going into care in Tasmania. (ABC News: James Dunlevie)
Kym Goodes, of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS), said the funding was a good start, but said she would like to see just as much investment in early intervention.
“The fact that we’ve got more children and young people going into care indicates that we haven’t got enough early intervention services to try and work with families to help them to be able to keep their children,” Ms Goodes said. “Because, that’s the best outcome ultimately.”
Tom Lynch of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said the funding would be well-received by child safety officers.
“We believe there still needs to be further work done on retaining child safety officers and the sort of rewards that are provided to them, but the Government has indicated a willingness to talk in that space,” Mr Lynch said.
Mr Lynch said there were currently about 400 children waiting to be allocated a caseworker, or whose caseworker had an excessive caseload.
The funding announcement comes after recent allegations about inappropriate care for children with disabilities at a private out-of-home care provider, Total Support Services.
On Tuesday, Mr Jaensch was unable to say how many children were still with Total Support Services, or whether any investigations were ongoing.
In a later statement, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said there were three children in placements with Total Support Services, and the department would continue to monitor suitability of the service for clients.