Children as young as two weeks old have died and others havebeen left in grave risk of abuse because of under-resourcing, andpoor judgements by the Department of Community Services, the NSWOmbudsman has found.
As he delivered his annual report yesterday, Bruce Barbour saidDOCS closed files on cases when it did not have the resources.
"Children as young as two weeks, four weeks, six weeks of ageare dying in circumstances which seem to be preventable," he said."What is clear is there are many cases where the risk of a childdying would have been reduced had DOCS intervened."
The report comes ahead of today's funeral of RoseVillanueva-Austin, 6, who died last month from a methadoneoverdose.
Of the 540 children who died in NSW last year, 97 of them wereknown to DOCS, Mr Barbour's report said.
Despite a commitment by the State Government in 2002 to inject$1.2 billion over five years into DOCS, he said case workers werestill under pressure and the department still said it wasinadequately resourced.
He said of particular concern was how DOCS ignored worryingreports made about pregnant mothers. "We see a number of examples,far too many, where … notifications are coming to DOCS aboutconcerns about a pregnant mother. Usually these are related tosubstance-abuse parents or parents who are in significant domesticviolence situations," he said.
"We see cases where DOCS is not responding to those reportsappropriately and circumstances arise where [children die]."
Mr Barbour said that "standard practice in DOCS" was to "closefiles when they don't have enough resources".
"Unfortunately, many of the cases that we see being closed areones where risk has been assessed to be very high," he said.
His report said that in some DOCS regions the practice was torespond only to cases "initially assessed as requiring an urgentresponse", meaning checking up only on children who were livingwith parents with drug or alcohol or domestic violence problems.Cases of children being neglected were ignored.
His report gave as an example the case of a baby boy who wasborn prematurely with a severe disability as a result of parentalsubstance abuse. He died aged two months. "In the months before hisbirth, DOCS received three reports about the baby from mandatoryreporters concerned about the continued use of amphetamines by thebaby's mother, escalating domestic violence and poor prenatalcare.
"The local CSC [community service centre] closed the reportswithout assessment. They also failed to assess a number of reportsabout the neglect and abuse of the baby's five-year-old sister madeboth before and after the baby's death. Over a 2½-year period,DOCS received 15 reports about the children but did not visiteither child or speak to their mother about the issues raised."
Mr Barbour said DOCS had claimed it did not have the resourcesto deal with all the complaints it received. However, it had madewrong decisions in attending less important matters.
"We see case after case after case with the same sorts ofproblems and same sorts of issues."
The Community Services Minister, Reba Meagher, left comments toher spokeswoman, Kirsten Andrews. Ms Andrews said the Governmenthad received 210,000 reports to its DOCS helpline last financialyear - up 13 per cent from the previous year. "The Government isconcerned that the number of child-protection reports continue toincrease and that's why it's invested an additional $1.2 billion,"she said.
Ms Andrews said the extra funds would result in 875 morecaseworkers and "the expansion of early intervention services".
The director of the NSW Council of Social Service, Gary Moore,said Mr Barbour's comments were "alarming".
The NSW Children's Commissioner, Gillian Calvert, said: "We havehad 20 years of reports like this, I think the challenge is, 'Whatare the solutions?' "
DOCS policies allowed cases to beclosed where children were at "very high risk".
- Evidence suggested some DOCSregions responded only to cases initially assessed as urgent.
- DOCS failed to protect some children who hadbeen reported to it before they were born.
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