One out of four deaths of children from families with a child protection history

Child Protective Services | Sauk County Wisconsin Official WebsiteA report from the NSW Ombudsman criticises the state government for closing cases for children reported to be at risk of serious harm without a caseworker making face-to-face contact with the family.

The findings are in the Ombudsman’s 2018-2019 report, which found almost one in four of the 989 infants and children who died in NSW in the two-year period were from families with a child protection history.

A report has criticised the state government for closing cases for children reported at risk of serious harm without a caseworker making
contact with the family.

The report notes this is disproportionate since, overall, 3 percent of all children and infants have a child protection history, meaning a report was made about the child or a sibling within the previous three years.

Julie Hourigan Ruse, chief executive of FAMS, the peak advocacy body for children and families in NSW, said the system relied on schools reporting children considered to be at risk, so it could be exacerbated by the near-closure of schools during lockdown.

“Children are invisible if they’re not at school; they’re pretty much invisible to the systems that are designed to keep them safe,” Ms. Hourigan Ruse said.

Over the 15 years from 2005 to 2019, mortality has declined by 30 percent for infants and 26 percent for children aged 1 to 17. All causes of death have declined, except for suicide, the Biannual Report of the Deaths of Children in NSW 2018 and 2019 finds.

In 2018 and 2019, 721 children died from natural causes, three out of four in the first year of life, and the remainder from injury, including transport accidents, drowning, abuse, and suicide.

The report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, found 19 children who died in circumstances of abuse and neglect. Only one case involved abuse by a stranger, while most involved familial abuse and neglect.

The report found the system has “limited capacity” to respond to children at risk of significant harm, and this led to the “premature and inappropriate” closure of cases.

There were 15 families with a child protection history, and in four cases, the Department of Communities and Justice had open reports that the child was at risk of serious harm at the time of their death.

But in another four cases, the files were prematurely closed, including initially due to “competing priorities” before a caseworker was assigned. Cases were also closed after referring the family to an early intervention programme or the Family Referral Service, but without follow-up.

In the 2020 budget estimates, it was revealed that only 29 percent of children reported as being at risk of serious harm were seen by a caseworker.

Ms. Hourigan Ruse said the problem was that the funding was directed to the crisis end.

“The first time a child is reported to the department, that case will be closed with no response because there just aren’t enough resources down that early,” she said. “It can take a child to be reported to the department 10 or 15 times before they get a response.”

The Ombudsman has asked the department to report back by December 17, detailing what it is doing to prevent the premature closure of reports and to advise on the findings and outcomes of its reviews of policy and practice around case closure, as well as the triage and allocation of reports.

A department spokesperson said it had responded to the Ombudsman accepting the recommendations and agreeing to report back by the deadline.

“DCJ has already implemented a range of initiatives and programmes to help address the NSW Ombudsman’s recommendations,” the spokesperson said.

The department funds 2333 full-time equivalent caseworkers, which it said was a “record number.”.

Labor’s spokeswoman for family and community services, Kate Washington, said the report painted a bleak picture.

“Year after year, it’s the same tragic outcomes, with serious cases of child abuse and neglect being closed without ever being seen because the government hasn’t employed enough caseworkers,” she said.

Stewart Little, the general secretary of the Public Service Association of NSW, said there were not enough caseworkers, and the other problem was that the government had effectively privatised services by directing half the budget to non-government organisations. “The approach fails, and it continues to fail,” he said.

Source : https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/one-out-of-four-deaths-of-children-from-families-with-a-child-protection-history-20210825-p58lps.html

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