Child protection 'dishonest, dangerous'

generic unidentifiable kid in playground

Victoria's child protection services are in the firing line again today, with two reports accusing the system of leaving vulnerable children at risk.

In September, Victoria watched Community Services Minister Lisa Neville under siege after a damning report into failures by her department.

There was news of a Gippsland man accused of raping his daughter over three decades and fathering her four children, as well as strong calls for a major overhaul of the state's child protection services.

Another scathing report from Victoria's Ombudsman found the system slow to act, under-resourced and at times dishonest.

And the state's Child Safety Commissioner released the findings of his review into the death of a toddler in August.

He says the system is not coordinated, leaving dangerous gaps.

Disturbing abuse

Ms Neville says anyone who reads the report will be disturbed that parents are capable of inflicting this kind of abuse on their children.

"It's unacceptable to me, as it is to him, that the system has let down some of these children."

The report warns almost a quarter of all child protection cases are not allocated a case worker, and says regional Victoria is particularly under-resourced.

Ms Neville concedes the system has problems - most she puts down to a worker shortage.

"[The Ombudsman] says and I quote, 'it may be difficult for any government to adequately resource the child protection program while it spends so much of its resources responding to the forensic examination of its activities'".

According to the Ombudsman, child protection workers spend 50 per cent of their time on court matters.

She says the Government is recruiting 200 new child protection workers, including 37 for the state's neediest region, Gippsland.

Independent panel

Ms Neville has promised to implement all of the Ombudsman's 42 recommendations covering the children's court, the quality of investigations, data collection and accountability.

"We will set up an independent expert panel to scrutinise child protection performance and report to me regularly," she said.

"Strengthen links between workers and police. Establish a quality control branch to ensure data integrity and compliance."

The report identifies many instances where authorities failed to intervene when it should have, and alleges some staff manipulated records, saying children had been visited when they had not.

In Question Time today, state Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu used the scathing report to again call for the Minister's resignation.

Poor communication

The hits keep coming.

The state's Child Commissioner, Bernie Geary, has completed his review into the death of two-year-old Hayley, who was known to police and child protective services, but who was left with her family.

She died in August from head injuries.

Mr Geary has criticised communication procedures between Victoria's child protection agencies. But he stopped short of saying the department contributed to Hayley's death.

"I'm not able to judge whether a person's life would be saved. I think that systems work better when people work together," he said.

Mr Geary says it is disappointing it has taken an Ombudsman's report for systemic failures to be addressed.

"The department has been clunking along for some time now, and I think the Ombudsman's report provides a window of opportunity for us to start to work up," he said.

"In the last five years I think there's been a 30 per cent increase in the wait on child protection, and that's left us with beleaguered workers, understaffed, people have left."

Early intervention

The Australian Childhood Foundation's Joe Tucci says today's reports prove the threshold at which child protective services decide to get involved is too high.

"Children are needing to be reported far too many times before the system organises itself to respond," he said.

Mr Tucci says the Government has got its policy mix wrong and is confusing child protection with family support.

"We need to provide earlier intervention and support for struggling parents, but when a child is abused, we need to have a different response, a response that's based on decisive and timely action and that's based on ensuring accountability by those parents who hurt children," he said.

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