A new report by child advocacy body, Fams, suggests vulnerable children on the Mid North Coast are at a higher risk of falling through the gaps than other children in NSW due to no, or limited, early intervention.
The Investing in Children and Their Families report said each year in NSW, 30,000 vulnerable kids are ignored by a broken system that overlooks targeted early intervention and does little to stop children entering the out-of-home care system.
The report also said the dreadful numbers are a result of a system plagued by a lack of evidence to inform decision-making, which focuses too heavily on the crisis end of the child protection spectrum, and not enough on prevention.
Fams CEO, Julie Hourigan Ruse said the report must be the final wake-up call for a system that needs urgent reform.
“Many vulnerable children are kept safe by quality services, delivered by a sector that is supported by sound policy-making, which helps kids when and where they need it,” Hourigan Ruse said.
“But for 30,000 children each year in NSW, they are not receiving that quality service.”
Ms Hourigan Rouse said the issue was even more pronounced on the Mid North Coast.
Central to the report is the provision of additional investment in the short-term to ensure the 30,000 children every year who receive their first Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH) Report also receive a targeted response.
“The issue is compounded in the Mid North Coast region, where there is a 14 per cent shortfall in child protection case workers, which is nearly five times worse than the average three per cent shortfall across the state,” she said.
“At the same time, children in this region are 57 per cent more likely to be considered at risk of harm, and 47 percent more likely to be experiencing out-of-home care.”
Determination of actual harm or risk of harm
Children and young people in ROSH reports where secondary assessment determined actual harm or risk of harm.
A key recommendation of the report calls for more transparent, regular and independent publication of child protection data.
Opportunities for targeted and timely responses to stabilise families are lost in a data vacuum.
This would move the focus from the crisis end, to data-driven prevention strategies.
On the front line in Port Macquarie, Major Kevin Unicomb from the Salvation Army said it is not so much that children are falling through the cracks but rather there is a failure of the family unit.
“Port Macquarie is in a much better place say compared to Taree or Kempsey as we have a lot of retirees but we do have some problems,” Major Unicomb said.
“I believe that early intervention is needed to stop children falling through the cracks, but that comes back to having a strong family unit and strong relationships.
“Absolutely more can be done in this area but it is about talking about personal and private issues which our government wants to avoid.”
According to the NSW Family and Community Services, in 2016-17 there were 6777 Risk of Significant Harm (ROSH) Report’s completed on the Mid North Coast.
Of those, 31 percent were either by NSW Education or the NSW Police with the top four reasons given being suspected physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse or domestic violence.
Major Unicomb said it comes back to the fact there is no such thing as parenting classes.
“When you go for a driver’s licence you have to do lots of training and work but to have children or a family there are no classes and I think that is where we fall short,” he said.
“Parents are the primary teachers for their children and in most cases you can tell the children who will fall through the cracks as they do not have positive and strong relationships at home – so that is where we need to be working.”