At risk: "The problem with the system ... is that often when a child complains, it's to a caseworker who may not be experienced enough to make the right call," says Jacqui Reed. Photo: Belinda Pratten
Foster children in the care of the Department of Family and Community Services are in danger because thousands are not receiving the regular checks required under state government standards, a children's advocate has said.
Louise Voigt, the chief executive of Barnardos, fears for the safety of foster children in the department's care because it is unable to meet out-of-home-care standards set by the NSW Office of the Children's Guardian, which include regular welfare checks.
There's huge concern about the children still left in the department.
More than 18,000 children are in foster care but only 2300 have been transferred from the department's care to the non-government sector.
''There's huge concern about the children still left in the department,'' said Ms Voigt, who runs the Australian arm of the children's charity. ''What is known and demonstrated is that the department is not visiting children in a regular way and cannot reach standards.''
The Children's Guardian has granted interim accreditation to the department while 55 groups on its list of agencies approved to provide out-of-home care have full accreditation and 24 provisional accreditation.
A Fairfax Media report on Monday detailed a case in which a father who had fostered more than 300 children confessed to raping a young disabled girl in his care. The department was alerted to the case in 2010 and an inquiry substantiated some of the allegations in 2011.
Child protection experts have questioned why the family's foster children were not removed from their care after the investigation, which Ms Voigt said was standard practice at Barnardos.
''If a child made an allegation of sexual misconduct of any nature I would be astonished if that child was not removed,'' she said.
The chief executive of the Benevolent Society, Anne Hollonds, said her organisation had removed children from foster carers after substantiated cases of physical abuse. ''Safety is the first priority for children,'' she said.
Jacqui Reed, the chief executive of the Create Foundation, which represents children in care, said its research had found up to one in 10 children did not feel safe in their foster home.
''We are inundated with lots of allegations,'' she said. ''The problem with the system … is that often when a child complains, it's to a caseworker who may not be experienced enough to make the right call, so cases do slip through the cracks.''
Screening for potential foster carers is stringent, including working-with-children checks,
criminal record checks and child protection checks, plus face-to-face interviews with the carer and others who live in the home. But the department and non-government sector concede that ''no system is foolproof''.
Ms Reed said suitability requirements could vary significantly among agencies. ''There are no hard and fast rules around suitability and that is a problem,'' she said. ''One agency will deem a carer unsuitable but another agency will take them on and that's when issues can bubble up and cause a lot of pain.''
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said the non-government sector was better suited to providing out-of-home care. ''What matters to children in out-of-home care is having a person from outside the home they can talk to regularly and confide in - and that is what our partnership with the non-government sector is delivering,'' she said.
There are 36 investigators working on cases before the department's reportable conduct unit, which manages complaints about foster carers, and all 106 allegations of sexual misconduct have been allocated to an investigator.