DAMNING REPORT: The Northern Rivers has the second highest number of children and young people reported at significant harm in the state.
DAMNING REPORT: The Northern Rivers has the second highest number of children and young people reported at significant harm in the state.

More Northern Rivers kids at risk than almost anywhere

THE Northern Rivers has the second highest number of children and young people reported at significant harm in New South Wales, according to a government report.

Sixty-one to 80 children per 1000 in the Lismore and Kyogle areas, and part of the Richmond Valley, were reported at risk in 2012/2013, the study found.

The Keep Them Safe Outcomes Evaluation that evaluated the NSW Government's sweeping changes to child protection policy, was carried out by the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre for the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet.

It found the worst area was north-western NSW, including Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett and Coonamble, where 81 to 204 children per 1000 were reported at risk of significant harm.

Anita Mansfield, the director of community and family programs for the Northern Rivers Social Development Council, said it was important not to focus on the statistics but the positive message for the area and that was that "child protection is everyone's business".

Looking after children and families was an ongoing journey, she said.

The council was the host of a seminar in Lismore yesterday that was attended by the researchers responsible for the report, Dr Kylie Valentine and Profession Ilan Katz, both from the University of NSW (UNSW) Social Policy Research Centre.

Dr Valentine said the Keep Them Safe five-year-action plan, from 2009-2014, was developed in response to recommendations from the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW.

She said there was always a shortage of good, quality services to provide help for families that faced difficulties with housing, employment or disability.

"What is encouraging though is that those involved in supporting families are taking their responsibilities very seriously," she said.

Asked if the situation was improving for children on the Northern Rivers, Dr Valentine said it was a "complicated story".

"What we found was that in most places in the Northern Rivers some indicators were going up and some are going down," she said.

"In the zero to five year old group it is a very encouraging story. There is a lot of effort going into working with new families.

"The biggest challenge is those families where they've been in the too hard basket for a long time.

"We need to work in supporting those families who perhaps do not have enough child care or income or who have unstable housing or mental health issues."

Dr Valentine said there was a belated recognition of the message that family violence is a huge issue.

The seminar was presented by the Collaborative Research Network, a partnership between Southern Cross University's Centre for Children and Young People and the UNSW research centre.



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