Hunter has more kids at risk of harm, but four in five are not seen by a caseworker, FACS data shows

At risk: The Hunter has the most children considered at risk of significant harm in NSW.
At risk: The Hunter has the most children considered at risk of significant harm in NSW.

THE Hunter has the most children considered “at risk of significant harm” in the state, but almost four in five are not being seen by a Family and Community Services (FACS) caseworker.

There were close to 15,000 reports of children at risk in the Hunter New England district between July 2016 and June 2017, but of those, only 3138 received a face-to-face assessment from a caseworker, new data shows.

The Hunter had the lowest assessment rate of all 15 FACS districts in NSW at 22 per cent.

The new data comes after it was revealed the Hunter New England district has been given a six-month lifeline to meet Children’s Guardian standards to oversee out-of-home care, or have its accreditation withdrawn.

Tania Mihailuk, the shadow minister for FACS, said the government was prepared to spend $2.5 billion on “a couple of stadiums,” while at-risk children were not being assessed.

“It’s horrifying to think that the Hunter receives the most reports of children at risk of significant harm, yet barely more than one in five children reported receives a face-to-face assessment,” she said.

Ms Mihailuk said the NSW Government had proposed expanding mandatory reporting requirements, which raised questions as to how FACS would cope with the increased demand.

“At the same time as the Hunter FACS district stands at the brink of losing out-of-home care accreditation, thousands of at-risk children are not being assessed,” Ms Mihailuk said.

In NSW, there were 86,426 children reported as being at risk of significant harm from July 2016 to June 2017, an increase of almost 7000 on reports received the year prior.

Shadow Minister for the Hunter, Kate Washington, said the new numbers were the latest in a “disturbing trend of neglect” for vulnerable children in the region.

The NSW government had its priorities “all wrong.”

A FACS spokesperson said “more children than ever before” were receiving face-to-face assessment from caseworkers.

Of the 86,426 children reported to be at risk, 27,793 children received face-to-face assessments – an increase of 3303 children from the previous year.

“In Hunter New England, the caseworker vacancy rate is 3 per cent, which is among the lowest in NSW,” he said.

Within the next year, $18 million would be invested into 42 more caseworkers for face-to-face assessments, 23 more to work on the Child Protection Helpline, and another 10 for the Joint Investigation Response Team.

“An additional 73 casework support workers will also be recruited to help caseworkers dedicate more of their time to face-to-face assessments and working with families,” he said.