Foster care outsourcing by NSW government Department of Family Community Services worries union
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Foster children could fall through the gaps if the NSW government transfers almost 12,000 youngsters out of state care and into the non-government sector, a union says.
Under changes unveiled by the NSW government on Tuesday, 11,813 children and young people now in statutory, or court-ordered, care in NSW will no longer be looked after by social workers from the Department of Family and Community Services (DoCS).
Instead they will have their care overseen by NGOs.
All non-Aboriginal children and young people in statutory care will be transferred over five years, while the transition will take up to 10 years for Aboriginal children and young people.
Public Service Association (PSA) NSW assistant secretary Steve Turner said the move would put children at risk because NGOs did not have the capacity to look after children.
"Children will fall through the gaps if this occurs," Mr Turner told AAP.
"The non-government sector already hands back a large number of children because agencies do not have the capacity or the experience to handle children and young people with complex needs."
Wards of the state became homeless and some even resorted to prostitution the last time the government tried to outsource foster care in the early 1990s, he said.
Mr Turner said money should instead be redirected to supporting DoCS and recruiting staff.
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said the changes followed recommendations made by the special commission of inquiry into child protection in 2008.
Headed by retired judge James Wood, the inquiry recommended that abused and forgotten children should be looked after by the private sector, except in the most extreme cases.
Allowing NGOs to provide the lion's share of home care would free DoCS to focus on its key task of child protection, Ms Goward said.
"We are the agency charged with the very onerous responsibility of deciding when a child must be removed and when the state has to intervene," she told reporters.
"This will enable us to get on the job that we must do."
Thirty-five out of 37 non-government organisations have agreed to a set of standards covering 96.4 per cent of contracted placements.
They will be paid $37,000 to look after each child, depending on individual needs.
Chief executive of the Association of Children's Welfare Agencies Andrew McCallum said the funding was a "reasonable start".
"We would like more money in the kitty. We would like the unit price to be higher," he told reporters.
"We think this is a reasonable start, not a perfect start, a reasonable start where we can actually start looking towards a reform process."
Ms Goward said the changes would not lead to cuts to front line jobs.
Incentive payments would also be written into the contracts to encourage adoption.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell welcomed the changes.
"There is no doubt that this will be a lengthy reform process," he said.
The PSA said DoCS case workers would hold a candlelight vigil in Sydney on Wednesday evening to protest against the changes.
By Lauren Farrow
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