Children 'At Risk'
Exclusive: ABOUT 25,000 suspected child abuse cases in Victoria are not
investigated each year, official figures show.
Overworked child protection workers are systematically ignoring neglect
and domestic violence-related abuse.
Even suspected sexual and physical abuse is often not properly examined,
The figures come amid fears the system is in crisis, with critics blaming
a catalogue of bungling and several deaths of children taken into state
care on a lack of resources and buck-passing.
New figures in the Department of Human Services annual report reveal a
record 38,205 cases of suspected abuse were reported to Victoria's child
protection services between July 2005 and June 2006.
But it is believed only about 12,000 are listed as having been investigated.
The department yesterday refused to release the investigation figures -- to
be unveiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on January 25.
Figures from 2005 list only 11,346 of 37,242 reports as being investigated -- less
than a third.
Australian Childhood Foundation chief Joe Tucci said the Bracks Government
was failing vulnerable and abused children.
"Reports of abuse are made by professionals in good faith, where there are
serious concerns," he said.
But cases were filtered out if the risks to abused children were deemed to be
"acceptable", he said.
"Cases of physical and sexual abuse are prioritised," Dr Tucci said.
"Reports of emotional abuse, often stemming from domestic violence, or neglect,
which could stem from parental mental, drug or alcohol problems, don't tend to
be investigated now."
Bernadette McMenamin, of anti-child abuse group Childwise, said: "I constantly
hear of people making serious reports, but saying nothing is being done."
There are also concerns about a new system, due in March.
Under the system, new centres run by community agencies will investigate
suspected abuse in addition to child protection services.
But Ms McMenamin and Dr Tucci fear community agency workers could have to
make critical decisions for which they are not qualified.
A National Research Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse report criticises
the dual system, saying it privatises child protection and will breed confusion.
DHS spokeswoman Jennene Rodgers said authorities did "preliminary probes"
for all cases, while the investigations data only listed "full investigations".
"In any cases where DHS suspects a child is at risk of physical, sexual,
emotional, psychological or developmental harm, a full investigation is
launched," she said.
The revamp will include an additional $226 million and 100 more protection
workers, she said.
Sunday Herlad Sun (7-1-2007)