Local Member Eddie Hughes says urgent action needs to be taken by the state government to curb the 'destructive behavior' of a small group of youths, who have been causing thousands of dollars of damage to Whyalla businesses.
Mr Hughes holds grave fears their behavior will continue to escalate, after Freedom Of Information (FOI) documents obtained by his office revealed a frightening increase in the number of children under the guardianship of the Chief Executive being reported as missing or absent.
The documents show the number growing steadily since the first half of 2018, when 55 children were reported as absent or missing.
By the end of 2018, that number had grown to 314 children, before peaking in 2019 with more than 780 children reported missing or absent (including multiple reports about the same child).
Mr Hughes commended police for their role in making arrests to try and control the 'mayhem' but said it was only a band-aid solution to a larger ongoing issue.
"Due to the age of the offenders they aren't usually kept in custody," he said.
"If some of the children and teenagers who are causing these issues are under the (Chief Executive's) care, then the system is broken and it isn't working in the interest of the community.
"We have to do all that is possible to stop these kids going off the rails, and they're going off the rails at a really young age."
Among local businesses affected by significant vandalism was Des's Cabs, who recorded over 30 incidents involving their taxis and eight involving their buses since late last year.
Regional General Manager Louise Osborn said the business had been forced to upgrade their security and had experienced a loss of income due to vehicles being taken off the road for repairs.
One of the vehicles damaged was a brand new Poncho Bus, which had all of its windows smashed on one side.
"It's a brand new vehicle, you can't just source those parts, they have to come from overseas," she said.
"Six big buses off the road is a major impact on our service because we provide buses around town as well as out to the mines...some people could have missed out.
"The community needs to report more of these incidents, it has to be a community effort. If they see groups of kids out after dark they need to report it before something happens rather than after the fact."
Mr Hughes said a series of evidence-based crime prevention programs in Whyalla funded in the long-term would be required to tackle the issue.
"There also needs to be far more resources dedicated to early family intervention," he said.
Department for Child Protection (DCP) Chief Executive Cathy Taylor said the DCP were duty-bound to report individuals who arrive home later than agreed curfews as 'missing'.
"Even if an individual breaks curfew by an hour they are included in this data. A child or young person who leaves their placement on more than one occasion would be represented in the data multiple times," she said.
"Children and young people in care have often experienced complex trauma in their lives and their behaviour can be reflective of their traumatic backgrounds.
"Our priority is to respond to the underlying needs of children or young people which can lead to them leaving their placements and displaying behaviours representative of their trauma. "
Ms Taylor said the state government had been investing significantly in early intervention initiatives, including establishing a $2.8 million pilot program for South Australian families at risk of having their children enter the child protection system and a $1.6 million Family Group Conferencing pilot program.
"DCP works with other government agencies, including SAPOL, to ensure appropriate services are provided and delivered to children and young people in a connected way," she said.