News : Families SA Finally Hires Extra Staff for Child Abuse Report Hotline
Adelaide, Australia, July 26, 2016 -- Families SA has finally hired eight extra staff to triage calls to its abuse hotline — more than 10 months after promising the change to ease pressure on the overstretched call centre.
The Advertiser revealed in September that 15,000 calls to the Child Abuse Report Line went unanswered in 2014-15.
The pressure on the call centre — and concerns that serious cases were slipping through the cracks — prompted Families SA to promise a trial of new "dedicated call takers" to initially record reports and pass details on to social workers to assess.
The eight new staff started training this week and will begin work in the call centre from August 15.
They are expected to be joined by more case support workers in the near future. Interviewing for those roles has begun.
The child protection agency is also instituting a new log sheet for calls to the hotline with "escalation points" for high-risk cases which need to be prioritised.
At the time it was announced, the trial was expected to cost about $500,000.
Education and Child Development child safety chief Etienne Scheepers said: "Having these staff on board will free up qualified social workers to focus on core child protection activities such as assessments and support of children in need".
"We’re very pleased to start this pilot program, and introduce new call centre operator staff," he said.
However, the union which represents social workers is opposed to the trial.
The Public Service Association argues that it should be qualified social workers who assess calls initially, in case a "call taker" misses details or context which may indicate a high-risk case.
The PSA instead wants Families SA to hire more social workers.
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson questioned whether the training given to the new call takers would properly equip them to pick up on dangerous scenarios.
"Hopefully this trial will mean calls are getting answered more quickly but it shouldn’t have come to this," she said.
Over the past four financial years, almost 86,000 calls to the CARL call centre have gone unanswered.
Over the same period, the average wait to make a report has grown from almost 11 minutes to more than 20 minutes.
However, many people have had to wait hours before getting through to an operator.
The CARL call centre operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Many of the callers to the hotline would be mandatory notifiers, such as doctors, nurses and teachers.
If they abandoned a call, they would be obligated to ring back and make a report at another time or make an online report.
Meanwhile, in Parliament on Tuesday Liberal MP David Spiers criticised Premier Jay Weatherill’s handling of child protection matters, claiming there was "blood on the hands of the leader of this state" because children who had been reported to Families SA had died.
Mr Weatherill was formerly the minister responsible for child protection.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Families South Australia is part of the Department for Education and Child Development.
Published: Wednesday, July 27, 2016