SOUTH Australian authorities did not investigate thousands of reportsof suspected child abuse in the past year because they believed fewer than onein five could be substantiated.
Figures obtained by The Advertiser also show that of the casesfollowed up, thousands were not investigated within set timeframes.
Nearly 45 per cent of cases in which children were considered at risk of someharm and almost 10 per cent of cases in which a child was determined to be inimmediate danger, were not investigated within the timeframes.
Another 12,584 reports were deemed not worthy of any investigation.
The revelation has outraged child abuse advocates, social workers and MPs,but Families and Communities Minister Jay Weatherill and Families SA chiefexecutive Beth Dunning yesterday defended the department's processes.
"Of course, we still investigate the most serious cases urgently, but we aredeliberately attempting to move our resources away from investigating all cases,to supporting families," Ms Dunning said.
"Child protection agencies around Australia are moving away frominvestigation and focusing on intervention."
The founder of volunteer organisation Children in Crisis, Nina Weston, saidevery report not urgently investigated could place a child's life at risk.
"I am very concerned about that, obviously, because it means thesechildren are not getting the help that they need because they are still atrisk," she said. "If no one is seeing them, it is possible they are beingre-abused."
Ms Dunning said less than 20 per cent of child abuse reportswere substantiated. Investigations strained relationships among the department,parents and guardians found not to have abused their children. "When reports areincorrect, it often leads to families becoming less receptive to acceptinghelp," she said.
Nearly 3500 cases in 2005-06, in which children weredetermined to be at risk, were not investigated within the target of seven days.The cases of 57 children considered to be in immediate danger were not startedwithin the target 24 hours of notification.
In 4228 other cases,families were contacted and invited to meet officials after it was determinedthe child was at low risk of harm in the short term.
Mr supportedFamilies SA's policy change, suggesting spending money on investigations couldexacerbate problems. "Other states have gone down the path of pouring billionsof dollars into investigations for no benefit in terms of keeping childrensafe," he said. "There's an argument to suggest it's actually made thingsworse."
Opposition families spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said she wasappalled by the department's handling of child abuse cases.
She blamed alack of funding and resources for putting children's lives at risk.
"Here we have a situation where even at the acute end of the cases, theGovernment is failing these children," she said. "They are not delivering on it.They are not supplying resources. They would rather build a tramline than lookafter children."
Family First MLC Dennis Hood called for mandatoryinvestigations of all child-abuse reports. He said further funds were needed andshifting resources from one area to another was unsatisfactory.
Independent MP Nick Xenophon said the emphasis on prevention would be"cold comfort" for children being abused. "It's also very disturbing so manycases are not being investigated on time," he said. "It has to be an absolutepriority."
The National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse andNeglect state president Richard Bruggemann said the number of cases investigatedpromptly needed to improve.