FAMILY Services caseworkers from across the Hunter have walked off the job in frustration on the back of a month of negative reports about the lack of effective child protection in the region.
More than 25 frontline workers from NSW Department of Family and Community Services offices at Charlestown and Edgeworth protested outside Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell’s office at Charlestown at 12.20pm on Tuesday.
Workers carried placards and demonstrated for about an hour to highlight high vacancy rates, lack of resources, computer problems and frustrating red tape that is preventing face-to-face work with vulnerable children and families.
‘‘‘The state government needs to address staff shortages and have vacancies filled on a permanent basis,’’ Public Service Association regional organiser Paul James said.
‘‘There’ s a massive volume of red tape. Case workers are spending hours filling out forms.’’
Department of Family and Community Services director general Michael Coutts-Trotter agreed with the PSA on the need to cut red tape but said it was counter-productive they were using caseworker numbers to criticise the department when recruitment was on the rise.
He said as of August 13, there were 184 new caseworker appointments in NSW.
‘‘We want to work with staff and the union to recruit and retain more high quality people,’’ Mr Coutts-Trotter said.
About one in four children at risk of significant harm is seen by a caseworker in the Hunter and Central Coast, according to government figures released earlier this month.
The region has also experienced some of the greatest shortages of caseworkers in the state, with Raymond Terrace, Mayfield, and Edgeworth particularly affected, a leaked report prepared for the Department of Family and Community Services reveals.
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward released figures that show 28.2 per cent of children at risk of significant harm in the region were seen and assessed by a caseworker between July 2012 and the end of March this year.
The Hunter protests were in conjunction with a series of stop-work meetings across the state.
The industrial action follows media reports last week which revealed NSW is short about 270 caseworkers, leaving children and young people at risk.
‘‘The PSA want Andrew Cornwell to be aware of the issues and place pressure on Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward,’’ Mr James said.