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Byron Shire
March 26, 2023

Child protection and DCJ workers ‘feeling abandoned’ in Lismore

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Lismore case workers for the DCJ feel abandoned by the NSW government. Photo David Lowe.

The failure of the NSW government to support the most vulnerable people in Lismore and the Northern Rivers a year on from the devastating 2022 floods is being called out. The Public Service Association (PSA) Union is calling for an independent review of Community Services as the number of children in motels increases and the DCJ struggles to secure case workers. 

‘A year on from the devastating floods that hit the Northern Rivers, Lismore’s Community Service and Housing Centre, run by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), is still without a site clients in the Lismore area can access,’ said the PSA union spokesperson. 

The two temporary sites that were supposed to become available are still inaccessible leaving nowhere for DCJ workers to meet with their clients in Lismore. 

‘Lismore clients need to travel to Ballina for face-to-face contact and support. Community service members who may need to meet their clients in a secured area have to do this out of Ballina or Casino.

A demountable proposed for NSW Government Housing staff at the Lismore City car park remains unused and guarded 24/7. Other temporary demountable sites have been set up in Goonellabah but there is no word on when it will open to clients. 

‘The government has built these temporary worksites on the cheap and the PSA raised safety concerns on both temporary sites in September and November 2022. To date, the PSA’s concerns have not been addressed,’ said the spokesperson. 

Feeling abandoned

‘We have members that work in Child Protection and Housing that lost their houses and their place of work, they are feeling totally abandoned by this government,’ says PSA regional organiser Rebecca Reilly. 

‘How can we trust the Perrottet Government to assist people back into their homes when they cannot do the simpler equivalent with their own workplaces? Staff are working remotely or from government sites in Ballina.

‘The Premier made it a priority to build back government services in Lismore and one year on the vulnerable remain unsupported. And it’s not just a physical workspace, there are not enough staff to provide support to the community. According to the DCJ’s own documents 12 casework positions have been cut from the Northern NSW area since 2020.  

Staff shortage

‘In 2022 in the Ballina office child protection caseworkers suffered a critical shortage of workers as the government could not fill these positions as fast as staff were leaving.  

‘It used to be very hard to secure a transfer to Northern NSW as positions were highly sought after and now, they have few on the eligibility list.’

The PSA believes that this is due to the housing crisis in the area, unreasonable workloads and that staff are leaving to go to the private out-of-home agencies where they are offered better conditions.’

‘This is even more concerning as its DCJ’s responsibility to support the community in natural disaster situations.

‘If a disaster were to happen today would DCJ have enough staff to support the community?  

Increasing numbers of children in motels

‘PSA members report that the sector is in crisis, there are a high number of children in out-of-home care living in Alternative Care Arrangements (ACA’s) formally known as children placed in motels.

‘There has been a dramatic increase in the risk of significant harm reports for children that are living in out-of-home care due to dysfunctional placements in the private out-of-home-care sector,’ says Ms Reilly. 

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