Editorial comment: Lydia Lynch
It is the problem that will not solve itself.
Katherine needs more social workers and we needed them yesterday.
Katherine’s child protection services are at crisis point and urgently need more staff to maintain high caseloads.
Katherine has more child protection cases than Darwin and Alice Springs combined yet only six per cent of Territory Families staff are based in Katherine.
Darwin, with the fewest child protection cases but has 65 per cent of staff.
Alice Springs has 16 per cent.
The shortage of social workers in Katherine is a crisis in need of spotlight, but it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
The problem is not going away.
There is one social worker for every 71 children in care in Katherine.
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.
The NT Royal Commission into child protection first identified the crisis in Katherine, in their report released last month.
“Territory Families identified difficulties in attracting and retaining people well qualified to undertake the work in the Katherine office,” the Commission report states
“This indicates that children in Katherine are currently at risk and that more staff are needed to prevent further increases in the number of overdue investigation.
“Staff members in the Katherine Investigation and Assessment Team have raised concerns with management higher up in Territory Families.”
The Commission also noted the NT government failing to comply with the requirements for children in out-of-home care and the NT Children's Commissioner does not have to resources to do its job
The Northern Territory has the highest rate of children and young people receiving child protection services in Australia – 91.5 per 1000 compared with 28.6 per 1000 nationally.
Territory Families are the NT government agency tasked with the care and protection of NT children.
Territory Families are aware of the crisis and have attempted to alleviate some of the workload by sending a task-force from Darwin to ease the burden.
“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,” a Territory Families spokeswoman said.
“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.”
The Royal Commission recommended wholesale change of the NT's child protection systems to address "shocking and systemic failures".
Katherine Times has contacted the NT Government for comment.