Secret files show DoCS visits to at-risk kids have decreased

THE number of beaten, sexually assaulted or at-risk children receiving intervention from Community Service caseworkers has dropped dramatically in the past year, official figures show.

A Community Services report stamped "Confidential - not for further distribution", leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, reveals the number of children at serious risk of harm who were visited by a caseworker dropped by 13 per cent in 2010.

It comes as a senior bureaucrat has authored a separate internal report which states caseworkers are not visiting children at risk of serious harm because of red tape and a fear of being blamed if the child is murdered.

"If the child is killed or seriously injured, if we say we were too busy to go out and see the child, we don't get blamed, but if we do go out and make a mistake, we will get blamed," the high-ranked bureaucrat said in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph, on the proviso of anonymity.

"We're not talking about subtle cases here; we're talking about serious sexual abuse, serious assaults, and we are not even going out to have a look. Imagine if the police didn't respond to a crime, if they didn't cover every angle. There's no doubt in my mind the whole ethos of the department is to cover their tracks instead of protecting children."

The internal report, called DoCS Logjam, revealed up to 97 per cent of children reported at risk of harm still did not receive a face-to-face visit because the bureaucratic steps required to assess the risk took "8-12 hours to complete".

In 2009, 149 children known to DoCS died, 10 from fatal assault and, in a damning indictment on the department, the senior manager said a culture had developed where it was decided better not to visit a family due to the red tape and for fear of being blamed.

"The culture that has developed is unless a caseworker can complete a complex secondary assessment process at a high level it is better not to visit families at all, no matter how high the risk," the report said. The author's analysis is backed up by official figures which show the number of children at "serious risk of harm" receiving intervention by the department fell 13 per cent - from 7626 in the first six months of 2009 to 6645 in 2010.

The confidential report indicates that reforms implemented in January last year after the Wood Special Commission of inquiry into Child Protection Services have backfired in their first six months. The reforms were meant to increase face-to-face intervention with children most at risk of harm - not decrease the contact they had with caseworkers.

The figures were presented to a crisis meeting of DoCS executives in November, 2010 and sparked an immediate investigation as to why the Wood Commission reforms had led to this outcome.

When asked about the leaked data, Community Services Minister Linda Burney's office confirmed the horrific fact that fewer children at risk of serious harm had been visited by caseworkers.

She said there were four reasons for the drop in assessments: staff completing more comprehensive assessments; an increase in complexity of cases where the illegal drug ice and mental-health issues were making assessments more difficult; caseworkers having to adjust to the changes in the new system, and an increase in time spent at court.

"There is still a lot of work to do to ensure we reach all the most serious cases," the spokeswoman said.

"It should be remembered that these are preliminary results of a five-year plan and there is a very substantial evaluation framework in place so we can gather evidence and measure the impact on the whole child-protection system over the longer term.

"We expect that recent government investment in early intervention will yield benefits in the long term.

"Caseworkers are committed to helping families and are more likely to leave a case open so they can try to help a family as much as possible rather than close a case."

The Wood Special Commission found that just 13 per cent of reports resulted in a home visit from a DoCS caseworker because they were burdened by too many reports that were not serious.

Justice James Wood recommended that less-serious cases be diverted to child well-being units so that DoCS could respond to serious-risk-of-harm cases more swiftly.

As a result, reforms raised the mandatory threshold for reporting to Community Services from "risk of harm" to "risk of significant harm" so that DoCS only dealt with the most needy cases.

Raising the threshold had resulted in a 53 per cent drop in reports to DoCS - from 97,695 in January to June, 2009 down to 45,581 in January to June, 2010. But halving the caseload did not result in more face-to-face assessments as intended.

Opposition spokeswoman for Community Services Pru Goward said the reforms were meant to improve the care available for children.

"You would expect the number of cases they actually see to go up but, despite $750 million and a collapse in the number of calls to DoCS, there is still no improvement in the number of children actually seen," she said.

"The department is in meltdown. We thought fewer reports (of children at risk) meant they could get on with the job. Yet the assessments have gone down."

Source : https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/secret-files-show-docs-visits-to-at-risk-kids-have-decreased/news-story/d4f7f58305bea71973afb4bc70efc878?fbclid=IwAR1Lmcky-qOsoqdz8fyjh77TSfpwuXlgwauXWMPSplAA3q9FfiTHQgan3T8

Originally published as Secret files show children left for dead

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