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FAMILIES SA Has Closed the File on a Young Child With a Sexually Transmitted Disease

FAMILIES SA has closed the file on a young child with a sexually transmitted disease still living in a potentially dangerous situation because of a lack of resources.
The child, who is under the age of 10 and came to the agency's attention in the past week, is one of hundreds of cases of children at significant risk who are being ignored.
Five experienced Families SA social workers spoke with the The Advertiser yesterday, on condition of anonymity.
They said the child's file was closed without investigation or assessment and was not passed on to police. But a larger issue loomed, they said, because it was only a matter of time before South Australia had a child death because of neglect.
"There are kids out there that are being abused that we can't get to, who should be removed," one social worker said.
"And when they are finally removed, they have been in an abusive situation so long that there's often very little we can do for them."
Their comments came as federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin told Parliament that the spate of recent neglect cases had shaken people to their foundations and was a reminder to the community that more needed to be done.
The social workers told The Advertiser a lack of staff was forcing the closure of the files of children who remained at risk of neglect, sexual and emotional abuse and physical harm, even when repeated notifications were received from people worried about the children's safety.
They spoke out following the child neglect cases that have shocked the state. They say the case of the mother of 12 living in a four-bedroom Parafield Gardens home is not isolated but would have been ignored if not for the public attention.
"We've always had these cases that are really serious that we haven't got to, but now there are dangerous cases that we're not getting to," said one worker, who added closed files included cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
As revealed in The Advertiser this year, only a quarter of the 18,500 notifications of child abuse or neglect notifications are investigated, prompting the social workers' claim it is "only a matter of time before a child dies". "I think we're scared about what is going to happen. We've been with the department a long time and we've never seen it this bad," one social worker said.
Families and Community Services Minister Jay Weatherill was described as "the best minister we've had" for his efforts in rebuilding a department they described as a "basket case" under the previous government.
However, the social workers said they wished he had more "clout with Treasury and Cabinet", but acknowledged this month's budgetary injection of $190 million for early intervention was long overdue.
They believe, however, none of the money will go to the greatest area of need, frontline emergency services, which are already under pressure as social workers struggle to cope with the growing workloads.
"The vast bulk (of the $190 million) is going on family preservation and reunification . . . and two new residential-care facilities instead of motels and that's great," one worker said.
"But there's no extra money for district centres and frontline work and on top of that we're going to get a 4 per cent cut to our budget."
The social workers took issue with the comments of Families and Communities chief executive Sue Vardon, reported in The Advertiser yesterday, that the system was working so well it should be "celebrated".
Describing the department as being partly dysfunctional, they said even understanding a basic policy of when to remove and return children to families was a "muddle".
When told of the case of the child with a sexually transmitted disease who was still living in a potentially dangerous situation, Mr Weatherill said the matter should be "immediately investigated".
He disputed that all the Budget money would go to early intervention, saying some was destined for frontline services.
Mr Weatherill also guaranteed there would not be a witchhunt to find the social workers who spoke to The Advertiser. "There will always be cases people feel uncomfortable with and so they should raise the issue to another level within the agency and if they don't feel they're being heard there they should raise it with me," he said.
Ms Macklin said the Federal Government was in the process of improving the child protection safety net in consultation with the states.
She said there was a " very clear need to have much better sharing of child protection information both within and across jurisdictions".

AAP (27-6-2008)

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