darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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December 1, 2009

A damning report from the Victorian Ombudsman into the state’s child protection system has identified 754 vulnerable children in Gippsland who haven’t been allocated a case worker.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said the report highlighted concerns he had raised in Federal Parliament when responding to the nation’s apology to the ‘Forgotten People’.

Mr Chester, who is a member of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, supported the apology to victims of abuse in state care but stressed the need for increased community vigilance.

“When it comes to the health and wellbeing of our children, we must all commit ourselves to never looking the other way,” Mr Chester told Parliament.

“We need to provide our children with the environment where their physical, emotional and social needs are all catered for. That is an individual family responsibility and a community responsibility. But where those families and communities fail, for whatever reason, governments have a role and a sacred trust to step in and provide assistance to our nation’s children.

“We must make the prevention of child abuse a national priority for our community.”

Mr Chester said the Victorian Ombudsman’s report was an indictment on the Brumby Labor Government and highlighted the Minister’s failure to protect vulnerable children in regional communities, including Gippsland.

“The Minister has failed to explain to the people of Gippsland why more than 60% of child protection cases weren’t allocated a case worker,” Mr Chester said.

“She should also explain why three child protection workers in Gippsland are handling 459 cases between them. Unfortunately for the Minister, there is no reasonable explanation for allowing ‘at risk’ children to continue to live under these terrible conditions.”

Mr Chester said more staff and resources needed to be directed towards child protection along with positive parenting programs, improving financial literacy and support for families which were struggling to cope.

“The staff at support agencies are completely overwhelmed and they are dealing with complex issues, often involving drugs and alcohol abuse along with unemployment and poverty,” Mr Chester said.

“Gippsland’s situation is part of a much wider problem facing young people across our nation. According to the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 33,000 individual Australian children are known to be abused or neglected each year.

“One in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused by the age of 18. Thirty thousand children are living in out-of-home care for their care and protection; one in four children have witnessed violence against a parent; and one in 10 teenagers regularly binge drink.”

Mr Chester said action is needed to move forward and improve the current system.

“It should be a higher priority across our nation to prevent child abuse and neglect to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every child.

“There needs to be an improved system in place to provide the necessary care and support for at risk children.”

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