THE Hunter’s Family and Community Services (FACS) office could be stripped of its authority to oversee out of home care for at-risk children after failing to meet accreditation requirements.
The Hunter New England FACS district has been given a “six month lifeline” to meet the Office of Children’s Guardian standards or have its accreditation withdrawn.
The move could put the safety of “thousands of Hunter children” at risk, family and community services shadow minister Tania Mihailuk said, as the “under-resourced” office monitored the most children in care, and the most children at risk of harm, of any FACS office.
The district failed to meet accreditation standards in September 2016, when it was given a one year extension.
Ms Mihailuk said if it did not meet this additional six-month deadline, the responsibility of overseeing out of home care would be transferred to another FACS district.
“It would shift a serious under-resourcing burden on to another district, instead of providing FACS with the resources it needs,” she said.
FACS has not revealed what criteria the Hunter New England district have failed to meet, but a spokesperson said it was not due to any child protection risks.
The Hunter office monitors more than 3200 children in care, receives almost 16,000 reports of children at risk of harm, and has the most child protection caseworker vacancies, FACS statistics show. It had the lowest rate of face-to-face assessments, seeing 21 per cent of children reported at risk of harm in the June 2017 quarter.
“The lifeline given to the Hunter New England office will be pointless unless it receives an urgent funding injection to meet the Children’s Guardian’s standards,” Ms Mihailuk said.
A FACS spokesperson said the NSW Government was spending $63 million in four years to boost the number of caseworkers and support workers, including in Hunter New England.
“We will work to address the feedback provided in the coming months as part of our ongoing effort to provide the best support to children and young people in out of home care and their carers.”
Kate Washington, shadow minister for the Hunter, said the number of children in out of home care in the region was at “levels we have never seen before.”
“The poor staff are doing all they can with the little they have got,” she said. “But the majority of children at risk of harm aren’t having caseworkers even contact them. For the agency that is responsible for the oversight of those children once they are in care to be found to have not met accreditation criteria, is just horrifying.”