AT RISK: Thousands of children fall through cracks

THE Department of Family and Community Services is potentially failing Clarence Valley children, with less than a third of children identified as being at potential risk of harm in Northern NSW receiving face-to-face assessment from a caseworker.

In the latest data released by FACS, 4442 vulnerable children in Northern NSW, which covers the areas of Ballina, Byron Bay, Clarence Valley, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed, are at potential risk of harm, but shockingly, only 1250 or 28% have received a face-to-face assessment from a caseworker.

The data also reveals just 100 full-time caseworkers cover the Northern NSW region, with three full-time positions vacant.

Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services Tania Mihailuk has called for the government to urgently fill the vacant caseworker positions.

However, FACS secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter said the situation has improved.

"We are now seeing one in three children at ROSH compared to one in five children just six years ago," he said.

"We have worked tirelessly on recruiting caseworkers to our frontline and increasing the number of caseworkers who take calls on our helpline."

He said targeted recruitment campaigns aligned with regional universities and the introduction of casework support workers are two key factors for the increase.

Mr Coutts-Trotter said FACS caseworkers are now working more intensively with families, particularly in the areas of child-centred practice and neglect.

On May 26, FACS revealed more children than ever before who are at risk of significant harm (ROSH) have received a face-to-face assessment from a FACS caseworker.

But just under three-quarters of this number are yet to receive a much-needed assessment.

This is despite the number of vacant child protection caseworker positions has shot up by 60% in less than three months, while the demand for frontline services to assess children at risk continues to climb.

There were 127 vacant child case worker positions in the March 2017 quarter, according to the Community Services Caseworker Dashboard. In the December 2016 quarter it was 79.

This is despite 68% of children reported to Community Services not receiving a face-to-face assessment from a caseworker.

In April, the NSW Government announced $90 million in funding for two evidence-based intensive intervention programs, aimed at keeping families together by addressing the causes of harm and trauma.

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