DCP staff at breaking point: union

David Salvaire and Phoebe WearneGeraldton Guardian
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Department of Child Protection caseworkers in Geraldton are being overworked to “breaking point” according to the industry’s union, amid accusations the department has shuffled figures to hide growing workloads.

DCP caseworkers are generally limited to looking after 15 children at a time but the department has confirmed 11 Geraldton staff are overloaded. According to DCP figures there are a further 35 low-risk cases in the area on a department monitor list.

The union claims that number could increase after 10 full-time support workers were removed from the Murchison region’s Responsible Parenting Program, which is being phased out over two years. A DCP spokeswoman said no jobs would be lost and the program would be replaced with an Intensive Family Support Team. CPSU/CSA spokesman Craig Parr said the 15-case limit — a key safeguard in the department to prevent the neglect of at-risk children in care — was being ignored.

“This State is in a mega crisis and the Murchison region isn’t faring much better,” he said.

A record 4658 children were in State care last year.

A recent survey by the union showed 48 per cent of caseworkers had been “asked to reduce the number of vulnerable children they are allocated”. Department director-general Emma White told a Parliamentary hearing on Tuesday it would not change statistics “for any reason”.

She denied her department was in crisis but said it was “without doubt under pressure”.

Minister for Child Protection Andrea Mitchell hit back at the union’s claims and said the case loads in the Murchison district remained within the bounds set by the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission Order.

“I am very disappointed the unions are acting in concert with the Opposition and causing confusion by suggesting there is insufficient funding for child protection services,”

She said since 2008 the State Government had increased the Department for Child Protection and Family Support’s budget by 88 per cent. Shadow child protection minister Stephen Dawson said there was an element of fear among staff.

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