NSW MPs have been flooded with dozens of letters believed to be coming from within the Office of the Children's Guardian containing dire warnings over child protection.
The government body charged with child protection in NSW is placing children at unacceptable and even fatal risk, according to a group of whistle blowers within the Office of the Children's Guardian.
In a series of letters sent to state ministers and opposition MPs over the past six weeks, a range of alarming allegations have been made against the Children's Guardian Janet Schorer and her director overseeing the office's Working With Children Check, Steve Gholab.
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Allegations include a woman accused of deliberately burning her own toddler being subsequently granted a Working With Children certificate, even though she was still serving a corrections order.
The flurry of correspondence prompted the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, to announce an internal review into the statutory body on Thursday, but Labor says this isn't good enough; Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, Penny Sharpe, is demanding a full independent inquiry.
In letters seen by 7NEWS.com.au, staff claim they have been ordered by Gholab to clear people who have applied for Working With Children certificates before the standard risk assessment process is completed, to reduce a mounting backlog of applications.
They also allege Gholab regularly orders staff to rewrite assessments where red flags over an applicant's suitability are raised, and has instructed them to lower the standard of risk assessment for indigenous applicants.
"A child will die or be seriously injured if Mr Gholab continues," one of the letters warns.
Another letter expressed fears that the ongoing practices in the office will only be exposed after a staff member is forced to give evidence at a coronial inquiry into a dead child.
It appears a public admission by the Health Care Complaints Commission in late August that it had hired a convicted sex offender to investigate patient complaints, including cases of alleged sexual misconduct by doctors, prompted the flood of warning letters.
Several make references to Gholab overriding staff advice "about six weeks ago" and clearing a doctor to work with children, in spite of his having been deregistered for sexual offences against vulnerable patients.
Other allegations against Gholab include:
- Providing a Working with Children clearance in July for a woman who was still on supervision orders after being found guilty of deliberately burning her baby
- Providing a Working with Children clearance for a sex offender found guilty of performing indecent acts in the presence of children
- Providing a Working with Children clearance for a child sex offender who groomed children to engage in sexual acts
- Providing a Working with Children clearance for a violent offender whose victims including children who suffered injuries.
Staff claim when they challenge Gholab's decisions they are bullied and threatened with their jobs, and multiple complaints to the Children's Guardian have gone unheeded.
'She is aware of him clearing domestic violence perpetrators.'
"Janet Schorer is fully aware of the issues relating to Steve Gholab...she is aware of him not following processes and ordering clearances when risks have not been mitigated," one staffer writes.
"She is aware of him clearing child sex offenders. She is aware of him clearing domestic violence perpetrators who have injured their victims including children.
"Janet Schorer is fully aware of all of this. She has been aware of issues since early 2019.
"I and the others believe her reputation is far more important to her than addressing the concerns."
More than one whistle blower
Labor MP for Wallsend Sonia Hornery has received about 30 letters over recent weeks.
A spokesman for Hornery said it was not clear how many individuals had written the letters, but it was clearly not the work of a single disgruntled employee.
"It's a more than likely it's a bunch of them," the spokesman said.
The correspondence was forwarded to Sharpe's office, which had also received similar letters.
Ward was grilled over allegations raised duringlast month's Budget Estimates.
"Minister Ward is aware of the allegations," a ministerial spokesman told 7NEWS.com.au in a statement on Friday.
"The Children’s Guardian has been asked to review the matter.
"Upon completion, the Children’s Guardian will provide the findings to the Minister and the NSW Parliamentary Joint Committee on Children and Young People."
'The minister must immediately suspend and review the checks.'
But Sharpe says the order by the minister for the Children's Guardian to review herself and one of her directors is farcical.
"The serious matters raised by the staff require more action than the current internal review," she told 7NEWS.com.au.
"I am calling on the minister to immediately suspend and review the Working with Children checks of the individuals who staff have raised concerns with, and establish an independent inquiry into the issues raised by the whistle blowers."
7NEWS.com.au sent a series of questions to the Children's Guardian and received a written response attributed to Schorer.
"There are strong mechanisms in place for staff to air grievances and concerns, and any concerns raised with me by staff have been and will continue to be treated seriously," the statement said.
'The decision-making process is rigorous.'
"Each decision to grant or refuse a Working With Children Check clearance is determined on its own merit.
"The decision-making process is rigorous. WWCC decisions are, and must be, made in accordance with legislation and evidence.
"The process is informed and oversighted by many areas of the Office of the Children’s Guardian."
A 7NEWS analysis based on data contained the Office of the Children's Guardian's latest annual report shows that since since 2015, the percentage of applicants rejected either automatically or after risk assessment from obtaining a Working With Children certificate has decreased by 44 per cent.
In 2017–18, 87 applicants challenged their rejection for a certificate by the Children's Guardian in either the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal or the Supreme Court.
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Two applicants used the courts to seek revoke on an interim bar and 40 applicants with adult convictions for serious sex or violence offences who had been automatically barred sought an enabling order from the NCAT.
In September, the minister rejected suggestions from Labor the Children's Guardian was becoming more lenient in its granting of Working With Children certificates, because it did not want to incur the extra costs of excessive legal challenges by rejected applicants.
"Legal costs are part of the Office of the Children's Guardian's overall budget," Ward told the hearing.
"It has its own internal legal team that provides advice to the organisation."
The minister was not asked about the organisation's expenditure on barristers to assist in its defence during tribunal and court appeals.
Source : https://7news.com.au/politics/nsw/minister-calls-for-review-into-childrens-guardian-over-claims-of-kids-at-risk-c-487818.amp