The nightmare of child protection in regional areas

RECRUITING and retaining child protection staff in remote and regional areas in Queensland is an acute and ongoing problem, the Child Protection Commission of Inquiry has found.

Commissioner Tim Carmody, whose commission was extended on Friday for two months to enable feedback on draft reforms released this week, said working in regional child protection was more challenging because of the increased complexity and tension in smaller communities.

"Research has indicated that parts of the role of child protection workers, such as removing children from families and the associated reaction of community members, are highly stressful," he said.

"The capacity to juggle the statutory demands of child protection work while living in small communities has been found ... to be a crucial factor influencing the decision ... to either remain or leave.

"Specific strategies are needed to adequately prepare and support child protection workers operating in rural and remote areas."

Mr Carmody said the department recognised staff should not be disadvantaged financially when living in these locations, especially in mining towns, where housing and living expenses could be substantial.

He said there were cost-of-living incentives offered to staff in exchange for a three-year commitment.

"The recruitment of staff at remote locations may be more effective by targeting local people, possibly through a cadetship or vocational education and training pathway," he said.

Mr Carmody said, historically, Queensland had under-invested and was fundamentally lacking in secondary services which included intensive family support services for at-risk families and early intervention services for vulnerable families and children.

Secondary services are the last step before department intervention, known as tertiary child protection.

Mr Carmody said placing out-posted child safety officers in regional areas was one way to improve the child protection system in Queensland's more vulnerable areas.

He said having a single entry point into secondary and tertiary child protection services might be a viable option for the state.

"This option would provide a direct referral pathway for children and families to access secondary support services without coming into contact with the tertiary child protection system," he said.

Mr Carmody said another option was to establish regional intake and referral services to manage all inquiries, with a non-government organisation managing the services.

He said the key to either model would be recording information on a central database to capture access history and flag cumulative harm, though privacy and confidentiality could be a concern.

Mr Carmody also said both regional models had the potential for inconsistent responses to children, families and professionals.

He said the Queensland Law Society believed the lack of secondary services had a direct impact on demands for the tertiary sector.

"The result of which is that children and their families cannot get access to these services, particularly in rural and regional areas," the law society said.

Mr Carmody also recognised different modes of service delivery were needed in regional, remote or rural communities to cope with differences of scale and infrastructure in those communities.

"Queensland has many different communities, including urban, regional, rural and remote communities," he said.

"Each region has its own set of circumstances and needs.

"The commission is looking to provide a framework that will guide reform without prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach, particularly for discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities."

Premier Campbell Newman on Friday announced Mr Carmody could deliver his final report on June 30 this year to allow for feedback before finalising recommendations.

"Child protection is a challenge confronting society, so we need to ensure there is enough time for Queenslanders to provide feedback and for the Commission to consider it," he said.

The commission has called more than 220 witnesses in formal hearings, held 160 meetings with organisations and individuals, and received more than 300 submissions.

The two-month extension will cost an extra $425,000.

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