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Motion: Child Protection Workers

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. C. Bonaros:

That this council—

1. Recognises that child protection workers dedicate their careers to caring for our state's most vulnerable people;

2. Acknowledges that the safety of these children and young people is of paramount consideration but, to provide safe environments, child protection workers must also be safe;

3. Notes the key recommendation from the Nyland royal commission which recognised the substantial risk associated with staff working in single-handed shifts and recommended that single-handed shifts be abandoned; and

4. Calls on the government to abandon single-handed shifts to increase the safety of children in care and to improve safety for child protection workers.


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (18:19): I rise to speak briefly in support of this commendable motion in support of the 2Up On Shift campaign being run by the PSA. The Greens are proud to support both this motion and the campaign and of course to support child protection workers in their campaign to protect children in care as well as those who look after them.

Child protection workers are incredibly dedicated. They spend their careers looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our state. There are few people more dedicated to the safety of children and to providing those safe environments for children. But these people deserve to feel safe in their workplace too, and it is the government's responsibility to look after both the workers and, of course, the children in care.

Child protection workers are currently on a 24/7 roster with eight-hour shifts and woefully inadequate handover periods, sometimes of just 10 minutes. It is not uncommon for workers to be scheduled onto a shift on their own, and this is just not good enough. We know that there are unacceptable risks for children that are being cared for by commercial care workers on single shifts, and these risks are substantial.

As has been strongly recommended by the Nyland report, carers employed through commercial agencies should be restricted to shifts with two workers at any one time. The fact that this continues to be a practice is deeply concerning. It is not just dangerous for children; it is dangerous for workers as well. We all know that a major challenge that child protection workers face is resourcing, and a key part of that is that there are not appropriate numbers of staff for the work that they do.

The best and only way to ensure that staff and children in care are safe is by having a minimum of two staff on shift at any given time. Staff do their best to build a strong, safe and positive relationship with young people, but this is difficult when there is a lack of consistency and numbers of staff. Child protection workers get moved around to fill gaps at other locations, often leaving these young people in our care with a single staff member. Less experienced staff then get put in positions where they just do not have the experience to manage the more complex situations, while senior staff are tied up at high-risk locations, leaving less support staff in other areas.

All of this means that children in care and the staff looking after them are often left in some unsafe situations. Children in care and the staff who look after them deserve better. They deserve to be safe. There is no other way to make sure that no harm will come to anyone without there being a second person there at all times. It is the best way forward in this situation.

It is beyond time for the government to take up recommendation 150c of the Nyland report, and I say that noting that the opposition has a burden to bear there as well. To immediately abandon single-handed shifts is what is required. It has been some time since the Nyland royal commission, yet still nothing—or little—has been done in regard to the number of people on shift at one time. This means that both the children in care and the child protection workers are still at risk. I thank the Hon. Connie Bonaros for putting this motion forward. The Greens are proud to support this campaign and this motion. We hope that the rest of the chamber will too.

With regard to the government amendment, it is unacceptable to the Greens that it leaves out paragraph 4 and inserts a new paragraph instead. If the government were to choose not to just leave out paragraph 4, which I note calls on the government to immediately abandon the single-handed shifts, then perhaps we might see our way to supporting the amendment, but as it stands, whether it is an either/or situation, we will not abandon our call to support double-handed shifts and, sadly, this motion and the amendment the government puts to this motion is not enacted by the proposed amendment from the government.

If the government wishes to rephrase and provide an addition, then that would be a way forward, but at this stage the Greens will not be supporting the government amendment but we proudly support the SA-Best motion.


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