By Vincent Morello and Nick Ralston
SYDNEY, Dec 6 AAP - Nearly 50 children who died while known to the Department of Community Services (DoCS) had their cases closed before their deaths, prompting the NSW ombudsman to condemn the welfare agency.
A new report has found that 114 children who died in 2006 were known to DoCS either directly or indirectly.
Of those, 81 children were the subject of a report to DoCS, and 46 of them had their case files closed before they died.
Ombudsman Bruce Barbour today released the second volume of his Report of Reviewable Deaths in 2006, focused on child deaths.
Seventy-three of the children who died were less than 12 months old, including 35 who were under four weeks old.
Ombudsman Bruce Barbour saidApproximately half of the children that were the subject of reports to DoCS identified in the report, at the time of their death had files closed.
We believe that the capacity issues and the quality of assessment issues are unacceptable.
Systems were improving but DoCS had yet to reach a level of service to best protect children. We see too many files closed, too many cases not attended to in circumstances where they should be
Many of them had had contact with NSW police and NSW Health.
However, the report also stated that only 31 of the children known to DoCS last year had died due to neglect or suspicious circumstances. The rest died of natural causes.
Bruce Barbour saidThe child protection system is not working as well as it should be. I can't be clearer about that
DoCS director general Neil Shepherd saidWhile the deaths were "incredibly sad", it would be impossible to keep open every reported case involving children.
What we can do is to improve the system substantially to lessen the risk of children being subjected to severe enough abuse and neglect that they subsequently die..But there is no way that a child protection system can guarantee that every child reported to it can be saved.
The report makes 34 recommendations, in addition to 60 previous recommendations from the ombudsman, which the department will implement.
The report states that the DoCS helpline received more than 241,000 reports of harm in the 2006 financial year, representing an 11.4 per cent increase from the previous year and a 50 per cent increase since 2000.
The ombudsman saidHaving enough case workers would always be an issue but he stressed the need for a co-operative approach to improvement, since children in potential danger came into contact with many government agencies.
This is a problem which is a multi-agency issue and what we need to see is a multi-agency response
Mr Barbour said he looked forward to the outcome of a commission of inquiry launched following a series of child deaths since October.
NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell called for the government to put aside the inquiry and launch a more effective and impartial royal commission.
NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell saidHow many more children have to die while the slow progress is made… (Premier) Morris Iemma ought to think, if these were one of his children, how would he feel?
© 2007 AAP