System failed, union says

The manslaughter of a newborn by his teenage father points to systemic failure.
The manslaughter of a newborn by his teenage father points to systemic failure.

The 25-page report tabled in Parliament two weeks ago put forward five findings and two recommendations regarding the manslaughter of a newborn child by his 15-year-old father in February 2014.

It found the Department of Child Protection and Family Services was not able to make an informed decision about the youth’s access to his son because of incomplete information. The youth’s primary caseworker was in Cannington.

The report said that the department had enough evidence to justify supervised visits but systematic issues such as excessive workloads contributed to the tragic outcome.

Union branch assistant secretary Rikki Hendon said it was encouraging that the report acknowledged that the death did not occur in a vacuum, but due to excessive workloads.

“For too long, the concerns of child protection workers have fallen on deaf ears. For years our members have reported that workloads are spiralling out of control,” she said.

Ms Hendon said case workers could not keep up with the number of WA children coming into care annually. “The number of children entering state care has more than doubled since 2006, and there are hundreds of children at risk who sit on the so-called ‘Monitored List’ waiting to be allocated a caseworker,” she said.

Department Director General Emma White said that between 30 June 2009 and 30 June 2013, 99 new caseworkers were appointed to full-time positions across the State. In the same time, an additional 802 children came into care.

“The department has workload management tools in place to ensure every caseworker is dealing with a reasonable caseload,” she said.

“The average caseload for caseworkers is approximately 12, and this average has been consistently maintained for a number of years. It is well within the bounds of the maximum 15 cases, which may rise to 18 cases in exceptional circumstances, set by the State Industrial Commission.

“The department is the only child protection jurisdiction in Australia that has mandated caseload limits.”

As at February, the department had about 31 caseworker vacancies – 21 regional vacancies and 10 metropolitan vacancies.

Ms Hendon said Ms White and Child Protection Minister Helen Morton had to accept and implement the recommendations and findings.

“Until the findings and recommendations of the report are actioned by the minister it is only a matter of time before another tragedy occurs,” she said.

As at February 6, the department’s Cannington district had 559 open cases, with seven children on the monitored list.