System fails more than two-thirds of at-risk kids
Weeks after hitting the headlines for wandering naked outside his home, Community Services Minister Gareth Ward has been accused of a glaring failure to do his job following the revelation of shocking child protection figures.
They show that more than two-thirds of children reported as being at risk of severe harm in the year to September were not seen by a case worker, while more than 100 case worker positions remained unfilled in the three months to December.
The state opposition claims the crisis is evidence "a distracted" Mr Ward is not up to the job and Premier Gladys Berejiklian should replace him.
The minister yesterday refused to comment on the worrying data, which was quietly updated on government websites last month.
Mr Ward has been keeping a low profile since his embarrassing encounter with police in March, when he was found naked and confused outside his inner-city apartment, an incident he blamed on general anaesthetic for an earlier medical procedure.
He also made news in 2017, when he was the victim of a scam in New York after ordering a massage in his hotel room. He contacted police after two men demanded money while he was in a state of undress.
"This minister is clearly distracted and unable to focus his attention on protecting kids in NSW," opposition family and community services spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said yesterday.
"If minister Ward can't focus on his primary job, in the next reshuffle the Premier must find someone who can."
The government data shows that in the year to September 2019, there were 108,803 reports of children at risk of serious harm, the highest number ever reported.
Only 31,773 children ever saw a case worker, meaning 77,026 didn't see anyone after being reported as at risk.
The numbers also showed the number of repeat reports was increasing. In the three months to September more than 37 per cent of children were re-reported within 12 months of their case being closed by the department. That's almost 5 percentage points above the government's target of 32.3 per cent.
Ms Sharpe said vulnerable children were being failed by the child protection system.
Questions posed to Mr Ward were directed to the Department of Communities and Justice.
A spokeswoman said the department was boosting recruitment but case worker vacancies rates were "consistent with normal fluctuations in resignations and hiring".
Case workers saw 5309 more children in the year to September than in the previous 12 months. Increased mandatory reporting and community awareness contributed to the increase.
Originally published as System fails more than two-thirds of at-risk kids