Staff spread thin to protect Katherine children

HELP NEEDED: The Royal Commission said last month there were not enough staff in Katherine to look after children in government care. File photo.
HELP NEEDED: The Royal Commission said last month there were not enough staff in Katherine to look after children in government care. File photo.

The NT Government cannot hire enough Katherine staff tasked to protect vulnerable children.

Figures obtained by Katherine Times reveals how the region’s at risk children are much worse off, in terms of social workers, than any other jurisdiction in the NT.

In mathematical terms the next “worst”, on data supplied by Territory Families, is Palmerston with one social worker to every 38 children in care.

Katherine remains at one social worker per 71 children, a failing the recent Royal Commission report instructed Territory Families to remedy.

The Royal Commission said last month there were not enough staff in Katherine to look after children in government care.

There is one social worker for every 71 children in care in Katherine, it was about 1:100 when the Commission first raised the alarm.

The Katherine’s social worker shortage is amplified when compared to other NT jurisdictions. 

According to Territory Families, in Palmerston there is one worker to 38 children. 

In Alice Springs there is one for 33 children.

Darwin is the best off, with one social worker for every 15 children in need of protection.

A previous inquiry into children in state care said the ratio should be one worker to every 15 child protection cases.

Darwin is the only hub reaching the recommended ratio.

In June this year there were 1313 open child protection reported cases in Katherine, with just 14 case managers to look after them, according to Territory Families.

That is an average of 93.7 children per worker.

A Territory Families spokesman said they attempted to fix the problem by hiring an extra four case managers in September.

They also sent in a strike team from Darwin to try and deal with overwhelming numbers.

That reduced the ratio to 71 children per worker. Still four times the recommended ratio.

The NT average is 39.3 cases per worker, Commission documents reveal.

The department is clearly trying to recruit more staff, 

They are offering more than $108,000 a year for a child protection practitioner in Katherine. 

The Victorian Government offers $30,000 less for the same role.

“Territory Families continues to implement strategic and targeted recruitment campaigns to attract quality professional staff to fill vacancies within the agency, particularly in regional locations,” a Territory Families spokeswoman said.

“Our recruitment to senior management positions has supported enhanced systems and processes, enabling cases to be finalised more quickly.”

“An intensive focus on recruitment means that Katherine currently has 22 case carrying professional staff in the field, as at October 23 2017; compared to 14 case-carrying staff on June 30 2017.”

The government sent a task-force to Darwin in September to help staff in Katherine close about 400 cases.

“The Team Leaders in the Katherine Office have an agreed ongoing program in place to work with case managers to complete case closures for low-moderate cases, to help avoid the build-up of unclosed cases which are awaiting administrative closure,” the Territory Families spokeswoman said. 

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