Some of the state’s most vulnerable children will be traumatised further after the Department of Child Protection failed to complete their child welfare assessments.
The Department of Child Protection’s annual report for 2011-12 showed that 631 child notification assessments were unable to be completed.
This figure was revealed alongside a significant increase in child welfare cases being dealt with by the department.
DCP acting director general Kay Benham said these assessments were left incomplete for a number of reasons.
While she said some investigations were not able to get off the ground because there was a lack of identifying information, others were not completed because a young person refused to engage with the department’s workers; or a child or family relocated during an assessment and their whereabouts were unknown.
Wanslea chief executive Tricia Murray said she understood the challenges associated with engaging these families but said many of these children were those who most needed help.
“They are going to be the most damaged children,” she said.
“There is a concern the best interests are not being upheld by their families, which means they will potentially be more neglected and more abused, have more health and psychological problems and their trauma increased which will only make it harder to treat down the track.”
Ms Murray said there was little the department could do to if people did not want to involve themselves in the process.
“You can’t force people to engage,” she said.
In the welfare industry these families are known as “difficult to engage.”
Ms Murray said in order to work with these families, the service provided needed to be flexible to suit the people it was dealing with.
She said addressing certain societal issues would also help.
“Like social housing, the increasing cost of utilities and providing more services for drug and alcohol treatment and mental health.”
Ms Benham said decisions regarding incomplete assessments were made after reasonable efforts had been attempted to locate the child and/or the family.
She said child protection workers could seek information from the WA Police, Centrelink, Child Support Agency, or Medicare to locate families.
“Generally the aim is to complete assessments within 30 calendar days,” Ms Benham said.
Almost 12,000 child welfare assessments were completed by the department last financial year