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FACS NSW - Staff crisis leaves foster children in limbo

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on Fri, 10/18/2013 - 04:46
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FACS NSW - Staff crisis leaves foster children in limbo

Up to 60 foster children and their carers have been left in limbo after a caseworker staffing crisis at a Family and Community Services centre in northern NSW.

The manager of out-of-home care at the Ballina community services centre has not been replaced after going on urgent leave and a caseworker responsible for 36 foster children moved to a new role last month with no substitute found.

Barbara Michel, a co-ordinator with foster care support group Connecting Carers, described the office as a ''ghost town''.

The 60 children are being transferred from the care of the Department of Family and Community Services to the non-government sector but the transition has stalled. ''They are in limbo and we can't talk to a caseworker about it because there is no caseworker,'' she said.

Figures from the June quarter provided by Family and Community Services show the northern region has the second-highest number of caseworker vacancies in the state.

A senior community services staff member confirmed the staff shortage in Ballina, saying children at serious risk of harm were being removed from their parents at the same rate but there were dwindling placement options.

He said some non-government agencies could not take more children and the department was no longer recruiting foster carers, so children were ending up in inappropriate care.

''A week ago we had to remove three children from a house but … [we had] to split the kids between a number of carers,'' he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

''Children are separated from their siblings, they are not being matched with carers, they are being taken from their communities and country.''

A spokeswoman for the department said positions at the Ballina office were being backfilled or shared across the wider management team.

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Rachel Browne

Social Affairs Reporter