News : Caller Waited Seven Hours to Reach Social Worker on Child Abuse Report Line
Adelaide, Australia, Oct 31, 2016 -- A caller trying to report suspected child abuse was forced to wait almost seven hours to reach a social worker on the Child Abuse Report Line, The Advertiser can reveal.
It comes as the state’s new child protection boss, Cathy Taylor, started her role on Monday and a new Child Protection Department begins operating on Tuesday, replacing the troubled Families SA in line with a key recommendation from the Nyland Royal Commission.
Figures released by the State Government show the longest wait time to reach the CARL call centre last financial year was six hours, 56 minutes and 14 seconds.
The shortest wait times were about four minutes.
The Advertiser reported last week that the average wait is one hour and two minutes.
The delay has grown from about 10 minutes in mid-2012 and 20 minutes at the end of June last year. Many people report waiting for hours to get through to an operator.
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State Nick Xenophon Team MP John Darley, who obtained the figures under Freedom of Information laws, described the seven-hour wait as "absolutely ridiculous".
"How many children suffered as a result of these extended waiting periods?" Mr Darley said.
"It is no wonder that 22,000 calls (to the CARL call centre) were abandoned."
The FOI documents state that very long wait times are "relatively isolated and usually occur during extremely busy ... shifts" overnight.
It is often the result of workers being called away from the call centre to provide immediate care for at-risk children.
Department deputy chief executive Etienne Scheepers said calls to the CARL hotline were answered and responded to "as quickly as possible".
"From time to time, callers experience wait times longer than desired due to the large volume of calls coming into the line at that particular time," he said.
Mr Darley suggested that there be a dedicated phone line for doctors, nurses and teachers who are legally required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. There is already a direct line for police officers.
"I think the community would be very angry to learn that doctors have to walk around with cordless phones in their pockets, on hold (to the CARL call centre) while they are attending to people in emergency rooms," he said.
"The Government are sending a clear message that they believe the time of police is more valuable than that of teachers, doctors and nurses."
Details also provided through FOI show 12,058 cases of abuse deemed serious enough to require a further response were instead closed without any action.
There were 43,161 calls made to CARL last financial year, of which 21,918 were abandoned by the caller before being answered.
A total of 54,713 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect were made, including thousands through online forms available to mandatory notifiers. The CARL call centre operates around the clock, every day of the year.
If mandatory notifiers abandon a call, they would be obligated to ring back and make a report at another time or make an online report.
As part of her inquiry into the state’s child protection system, Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended in June that the State Government split the overstretched Families SA from the wider department.
She called for a new, separate Child Protection Department with a new chief executive who had expertise in the field — unlike former department boss and senior policeman, Tony Harrison.
Ms Taylor has 16 years’ experience in child protection in Queensland, where she was the deputy director general of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.
Her contract runs for five years. The State Government has not released details of her salary package.
The Liberal Opposition had long called for Families SA to be carved out of the wider department but Premier Jay Weatherill had resisted until receiving the Nyland report.
The rebranding of Families SA follows a strategy applied to other struggling government agencies.
WorkCover was last year renamed Return to Work SA, as part of a major legislative restructure, while authorities were criticised for bothering to rename Arts SA as Arts South Australia.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Families SA:
Families South Australia is part of the Department for Education and Child Development.
Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2016
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