40pc rise in reports of suspected child abuse

LEGITIMATE reports of suspected child abuse to the Child Protection Department grew by about 40 per cent – to almost 40,000 – in the past financial year, new figures show.

And almost one in four calls to the Child Abuse Report Line went unanswered during the same period, according to the department’s 2019-20 annual report.

The report reveals there were 39,508 “screened-in notifications” of child abuse last financial year, up 10,718 compared with 2018-19.

Screened-in notifications are reports of suspected child abuse or neglect that are deemed to be of sufficient concern to warrant intervention by the department.

A further 36,044 notifications were lodged in 2019-20 but not screened-in.

Community members such as doctors, teachers and volunteers are required by law to submit notifications with the department if they suspect, on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is, or may be, at risk of harm.

The report also shows that more than 14,500 calls from the general public to the Child Abuse Report Line went unanswered in 2019-20. Of the 65,334 calls made, only 50,751 were answered.

Child Protection Department deputy chief executive Fiona Ward attributed the rise in screened-in notifications to changes in reporting requirements that were introduced in 2017, as well as increased community awareness about child abuse. “The threshold was broadened from significant harm to likelihood of harm and now also includes a greater emphasis on cumulative harm,” she said.

Ms Ward said the department had made significant improvements to staffing levels at the call centre, which now has 91.6 full-time-equivalent workers. It has also introduced a call-back feature.

“In periods of high volume, the department encourages callers to stay on the line and opt for the call-back feature, and their call will be returned within two hours of their initial call,” she said.

Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson, pictured, said the State Government was “committed to continuing to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable children and young people”.

“That includes growing family-based care, better scoping kin, conducting more investigations and providing the best therapeutic care and supports possible,” she said. Opposition child protection spokeswoman Katrine Hildyard said the government needed to provide more funding for early intervention services to tackle child abuse.

“The steep increases in both care-concern calls and the number of children being taken into care suggest not enough is being done to prevent family breakdown, neglect and abuse, and to ensure every child is supported to thrive,” she said.

The number of children in state care, including foster care and residential care, has risen to 4370 as at June 30 this year, up from 3984 at the same time last year.

(Source - Advertiser 20th Nov 20)

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