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Recruitment of staff for new SA Child Protection Department

Published: 6 December 2016

The Advertiser article by Lauren Novak, 6 December 2016

The South Australian Child Protection Department is understaffed by more than 300 people, but executives are continuing to set ambitious recruitment targets.

Officials have confirmed that the department is operating with about 300 fewer workers than it should be as it struggles to recruit new employees.

However, in its response to the Nyland Royal Commission the State Government has set targets to recruit even more, such as a team of 50 extra social workers to clear a backlog of cases.

Education and Child Development Department chief executive Rick Persse yesterday told a parliamentary committee that the Government was only able to cover the soaring cost of caring for at-risk children in emergency accommodation — which reached almost $83 million last financial year — because it had “seriously” underspent on staff salaries. “The churn (of staff) is high,” he said.

The public sector union has previously called on the Government to recruit at least 300 extra workers in order to properly protect the state’s most vulnerable children.

Australian Association of Social Workers SA branch president Mary Hood said the department would have to consider interstate applicants to meet its recruitment targets.

“Anybody who realistically looks at that realises that it is (going to take time),” Dr Hood said.

Child Protection Department chief executive Cathy Taylor yesterday said child protection work required a “specialised skill set” and there was “a shortage of suitably skilled people in SA”.

Child Development Minister Susan Close last week told The Advertiser that her department was “recruiting constantly” and “pretty close to having filled” all open social worker positions.

However, staff turnover created demand in other areas.

For example, as of November 30, 124 of 603 residential carer positions were vacant.

The committee also heard yesterday that the number of children living in emergency housing — such as rented apartments or caravans — after being removed from unsafe parents lurched from 156 in June to 193 at the end of last month.

The cost of that housing, and staff to supervise the children, has ballooned from $37 million three years ago to almost $83 million last financial year.Mr Persse conceded the emergency accommodation budget this financial year — forecast at just $25 million — “will be exceeded” as demand continues to spike.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers