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Over 1300 children without case workers

Retired nurses, policemen and school teachers may become the new front line against child abuse under a new proposal.

More than 1300 children at risk of abuse and neglect don't have allocated case workers in Victoria, despite money being thrown at the state's child protection system.

And staff retention is still a critical issue, with frontline child protection workers leaving at a rate of 28 per cent.

As at June 19, 2009, there were 2197 children - almost one quarter of all cases - without an allocated case worker.

Three months later, the government announced a $77 million package to employ an extra 200 child protection staff, including 101 frontline workers.

Department of Human Services secretary Gill Callister told a parliamentary inquiry on Monday that as at August 20, there were 1350 children, or 12.9 per cent of all cases, without a dedicated child protection worker.

"I am heartened by the progress we have made," she said.

Callister said she was optimistic the department's recruitment drive for child protection workers would be successful, with only a "small number" of people who had come from places including the United Kingdom choosing to leave.

But she said overall turnover of frontline staff remained at 28 per cent in the last financial year.

Acting Ombudsman John Taylor said he was disappointed the government had rejected the recommendation there be a separate child protection department.

Last financial year, almost a quarter of children involved in 42,000 mandatory reports to child protection did not get visited, he said.

Taylor said people without specific child protection qualifications, such as former teachers, nurses and police officers, should be recruited to conduct basic checks on children.

"You would save a lot of money and you'd save kids falling through the cracks," Taylor said.

"Traditionally child protection workers are required to ... hold formal qualifications and yet a lot of their work is pretty basic."

Callister said the department did employ people without child protection-specific qualifications but it was not appropriate they be involved in frontline work.

"People just with life experience or no skills or training I doubt would be able to do frontline child protection work," she said.

Taylor said the department was failing to discharge its statutory responsibility to have completed a best interests case plan for a child within six weeks of a court order being made.

Callister said she had received legal advice that the department was meeting its statutory obligations regarding case plans.

Community Services Minister Lisa Neville said the rate of unallocated child protection cases had been reduced to 12.9 per cent.

"I am confident that this will continue to fall," she said.

She said child protection staff were recruited from a variety of backgrounds but frontline workers needed to be highly qualified.

Neville said the government had recruited 400 new child protection workers in the last year.


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