The Public Service Association is calling on the New South Wales government to "take responsibility and de-privatise" the "broken" child protection system, citing "shocking" new statistics showing that tens of thousands of at-risk children in the state are not being seen by authorities.
The union said data out Monday shows 76 per cent of young people suspected of being at risk of physical or sexual abuse are not being seen in person.
The new statistics shows NSW's caseworker vacancy rate spiked by five percentage points to 12 per cent between July and September last year, with large numbers of child protection workers claiming workers' compensation due to stress and burnout. Hundreds of workers' have recently opened compensation claims, the PSA notes.
In March 2023, Aboriginal children and young people made up 45.1 per cent of those in out-of-home care in New South Wales, compared with 39.8 per cent in 2018.
Of the 118 children housed in emergency accommodation (hotels, motels, caravan parks and short-term rentals) two-thirds were Indigenous, data provided by the Department in September last year showed.
The union's General Secretary, Stewart Little, said the PSA has been in dialogue with Child Protection Minister Kate Washington "who now needs to act fast".
"Vulnerable kids aren't slipping through the cracks anymore, they're just tumbling through gaping holes. We need urgent and fundamental reform," Mr Little said.
"Our members in child protection are telling us they've never seen the system in worse shape. They are stressed out of their minds and leaving in mass numbers.
"Private providers pick and choose which kids they take on, and often refuse to accept responsibility for the most troubled children."
Mr Little said hundreds of kids are being left to live in "scrappy motels" for months, "barely supervised by untrained staff".
"The privatised foster system has been left to wither and die. The terrible inefficiencies are costing NSW taxpayers more than we ever paid for the public system. In at least one case, an 'Alternative Care Arrangement' cost NSW around $3 million to provide support to one child in need," he said.
"It's not Kate Washington's fault the system is broken, but it's her responsibility to clean it up. To the Minister's credit, she acknowledged that costly and inefficient privatised child protection services in NSW might have to be placed back into public hands. We now need the government to act.
"The government has a moral responsibility to care for the most vulnerable kids, and it is failing at the moment. The way to take responsibility is to stop outsourcing to NGOs, take control, and start getting qualified caseworkers back into the system."
The public service union leader said the privatisation of child protection service in New South Wales "was a grotesque experiment and it's been a grotesque failure".
National Indigenous Times has contacted the NSW government for comment.
A report issued by the NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation and Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT in September 2023 said the state government was failing to consult with Aboriginal communities in implementing the Family is Culture Review recommendations brought down in 2019.