Child protection system in crisis

  • 12 April 2024

There are too many children in need and not enough staff to provide support for them and the problem of protecting our vulnerable kids exists right across the country. Add in a failed experiment in offloading residential and foster care to non-government organisations (NGOs) and you have a pending disaster. Residential and/or Out Of Home Care has been outsourced to NGOs by governments over the past 20 years, resulting in the quality of services plummeting, teens in care being exploited, and the costs to run these services spiraling out of control.

In NSW, child protection case workers have commenced action due to staff shortages and burnout as about 500 children are cared for under “High Cost Emergency Arrangements” in facilities such as serviced apartments, hotels and caravan parks at enormous cost. Children are supervised round the clock by labour-hire workers, or worse volunteers, many of whom are inexperienced.

The Public Service Association (PSA), has launched a month of action over members' concerns.

Non-government providers are able to pick and choose their clients, often refusing to accept responsibility for the most traumatised children.

Child protection Caseworkers say they are being pressured by management to put pressure on extended family members to take on children in need, particularly children with high needs, regardless of whether this is a suitable outcome.

The Public Service Association of NSW has called on the Minister, Kate Washington, to do more demanding higher band levels for workers starting careers in the Child Protection system to recruit more staff.

Better pay and more staff

In the past 18 months, the vacancy rate in NSW for Caseworkers has increased more than 500 per cent, with 270 vacancies reported in September 2023.

The Department of Communities and Justice is losing more Caseworkers than it is employing, with a net loss in 2022-23 of 22 Caseworkers.

Aboriginal staff are leaving at a higher rate, a crisis when their cultural knowledge is so vital to a community so heavily involved in the Child Protection system.


The starting wage of a Child Protection Caseworker with Community Services is $75,992. In comparison, the average starting wage of staff doing similar work in the private sector is $88,000.

This wage disparity and incentives being offered to attract nursing midwifery and teaching graduates is exacerbating the recruitment problems skewing the employment market away from careers in Child Protection.