The Weekend Australian

Violence hits child protection workers

- DAMON JOHNSTON VICTORIAN EDITOR

Hundreds of Victorian child protection workers have been physical assaulted while dealing with vulnerable families in the state’s crisis-riddled juvenile welfare service.

Over the past two years frontline workers have experience­d more than two assaults a week as they attempt to help at-risk children and teenagers.

The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing has confirmed there were 159 assaults recorded in 2018-19, and another 109 last year.

“Our child protection workers provide an essential frontline service for children and families in need and any form of aggression towards them is never OK,” a government spokesman said.

“While also incredibly rewarding, working with families in crisis can at times be challengin­g and workers can face traumatic incidents, substance-affected people and violence.”

The hazardous nature of child protection work is underlined by the fact that out of a 2000-strong workforce, 283 staff accessed psychologi­cal support last year, more than 300 attended resilience training and 71 teams received wellbeing interventi­ons offering them counsellin­g, training and support.

The shocking assault numbers follow a series of revelation­s about the scandalous state of child protection in Victoria, including the deaths of 65 children and teens known to the welfare service.

The Australian has highlighte­d the case of 15-month-old Baby M, who died of suspected SIDS in 2019. The child had been left in the care of a relative with drug, homelessne­ss and domestic violence issues.

Despite five reports being opened by child protection into the child, multiple catastroph­ic failures within the system, including failing to adequately check on the carer’s drug issues, and failing to adequately check on Baby M’s sleeping arrangemen­ts occurred.

The Commission for Children and Young People has been highly critical of the child protection service’s performanc­e. “Child Protection’s assessment and interventi­on was often delayed, in some cases for months, leaving young children in vulnerable situations. This delayed response may be attributed to increasing pressure on the workforce impacting the ability to prioritise urgent tasks,” the government watchdog found as part of a secret inquiry last year.

Of the 65 deaths last year, contact with child protection services was “inactive” in 39 at the time of death, and in 26 cases the involvemen­t was “active”, according to informatio­n released by the Victorian Coroner.

Suicide, car accidents, suffocatio­n, drugs, assaults and SIDS are the most common causes of death among the at-risk group that pans infants to 18-year-olds.

Victoria’s Community and Public Sector Union, which represents the child protection workers, said the working environmen­t for many staff was dangerous.

“Child protection is one of the most complex and challengin­g state services provided,” a union spokesman said.

“There is never enough resources and notificati­ons are endless, and the workforce, despite being highly profession­al, are susceptibl­e to violence as families break down. The important work now being undertaken around gendered violence and family support must continue.”

Veteran Labor MP Luke Donnellan is Victoria’s Child Protection Minister. The government said on Friday that the last state budget provided more than $106m to recruit an additional 239 child protection positions. Since 2016, almost $450m had been invested to employ 889 extra frontline staff.

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