GPV/KCV applauds the Auditor General for his report into the Mental Health of Child Protection Practitioners (May 2018)
GPV/KCV has long held the view that CPPs are overworked; a circumstance that leads to kinship carers being case-managed by stressed workers. The results are often catastrophic with poor decisions about child welfare made.
‘Like police, emergency services and youth justice, child protection is ‘frontline’ work that is highly complex and requires specialist skills. CPPs are exposed to a range of mental health stressors, including:
- long and unpredictable working hours
- repeated exposure to trauma, violence, and on occasion, death
- difficult interactions with the public
- high professional expectations.’
▪ “DHHS has improved its focus on promoting and supporting good mental health for its staff … However, DHHS is not
meeting its obligation to ensure that CPPs are maintaining good mental health.”
Aside from the obvious risks to mental health caused by the nature of child protection work, the main risks to CPPs’ mental health comes from unreasonable workloads. There are also risks associated with a lack of professional respect for CPPs in the wider community, including from clients, colleagues and within the courts.
▪ The DHHS workforce needs to be doubled to adequately ease workload pressure, at a cost of about $325 million per year. Multiple reports in the past year from organisations like the Ombudsman’s office and the Commission for Children and Young People have noted that DHHS is ‘stretched beyond capacity’ and ‘overloaded’.
The DHHS workforce has increased by 26% since 2010, but child protection reports have increased by almost five times that number. The amount of paperwork required for each case has also increased over this period.
▪ In its requests for funding, DHHS has failed to make government aware of ‘the potential legal and financial implications of
CPPs being exposed to unreasonable workloads’.
▪ Surveys conducted by the Auditor General’s office and others found that only one third of CPPs reported feeling ‘no to low or mild stress levels’, while only one third ‘agreed that their workload was appropriate for the job they do’. Fifty percent were dissatisfied with their work-life balance.
▪ CPPs frequently feel the need to work overtime to meet work demands but are afraid to accurately report their working hours for fear of seeming inefficient.
‘The requirement to complete heavy workloads within strict statutory time lines, coupled with the need to keep CPP teams staffed at all times, also creates competition for access to work breaks and leave.’
▪ There is a very high rate of staff turnover in CPP roles, creating ‘a need for constant recruitment and training’.
‘From 2012–13 to 2016–17, the average tenure of child protection’s core case‐carrying staff, CPP‐3s (practitioners) and
CPP‐4s (advanced practitioners), was 2.56 years and 6.14 years respectively.”
‘CPPs struggle to maintain good mental health in the face of unreasonable workloads and inadequate organisational support. While the mental health risks to CPPs arising from unreasonable workloads are largely beyond DHHS’s control, it knows it needs to improve its organisational support for them.’
The Auditor General’s office has made a series of recommendations to address the issues noted above. The DHHS has acknowledged these recommendations and is now formulating an action plan to implement them.