Vulnerable children are sleeping in State Government offices under the care of increasingly overworked child protection staff, according to the Public Service Association.
The union says that since August it has received multiple reports that Child Protection Department staff, employed to run a 24/7 child abuse report line, were instead providing emergency care for children.
The Sunday Mail last month reported that 1527 calls to the child abuse report line went unanswered in September, according to the latest available figures.
More than 6460 calls were made, which was a 21 per cent spike in notifications to the report line, compared to September 2018.
PSA assistant general secretary Natasha Brown said staff were stressed and fatigued and had worked 200 hours overtime in September to take care of children in “inappropriate” emergency accommodation, including in offices.
She said department offices across the state were being used as emergency childcare centres, mostly for a few hours.
However, in a handful of cases children had slept in makeshift beds overnight.
Ms Brown said important calls going unanswered put children at risk, as did overworked staff and children being kept in inappropriate emergency care.
She said more staff were needed, as were more residential and family care placements. Similar concerns were raised by the PSA in October.
“This is a crisis that won’t go away without decisive action from the State Government,” Ms Brown said. “It’s simply not acceptable.”
Opposition spokeswoman Jayne Stinson said exhausted staff needed to be treated with more respect and the care of the state’s most vulnerable children needed to be prioritised. “This situation can’t continue,” she said.
The department said “significant improvements” to the call centre, including more staff, had been made over the past three years and it was working with staff and the PSA on concerns over peak demand periods.
Department chief executive officer Cathy Taylor said child protection workers had a responsibility to ensure the safety of vulnerable children and young people.
She said this included providing interim supervision and care in emergency circumstances while a placement option was sourced and secured.
“Much like emergency services staff, child protection workers are always flexible and responsive in times of crisis and high demand, with the safety of children and young people our first priority,” she said.