Mandatory reporting of child abuse is clogging up the system and putting children experiencing severe abuse at even greater risk, says South Australia’s premier.
Jay Weatherill has called for a winding back of mandatory reporting as the state’s child abuse hotline struggles with tens of thousands of unanswered and abandoned calls.
A leading child advocacy group says the state government needs to get its act together, but the premier says that while mandatory reporting sounds good, it is swamping the child protection system.
“It’s the equivalent of having everyone going into the emergency waiting room at a busy hospital, everybody that’s got a heart attack all the way through to an ingrown toenail,” Mr Weatherill told radio station 5AA on Tuesday.
Mr Weatherill’s comments came as Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire revealed more than 15,000 calls to SA’s child abuse hotline had been abandoned in the past financial year and 85,000 went unanswered over the past four years.
Mr Brokenshire said the premier’s remarks were “outrageous” and the problem was with the system itself.
“Don’t blame mandatory reporters for clogging the system,” he said.
“If a teacher or police officer or doctor believe that a child is at risk, then they mandatory report it and it’s up to the experts to work out the level of risk and the priority for attending to that child.”
Hetty Johnston, from child advocacy group Bravehearts, agreed the problem was not with mandatory reporting but with how the government manages information.
“Do we want mandatory reports to only apply if a child is nearly dead?” she told AAP.
“At what point does the child become at great risk and require a mandatory report?
“How many children are out there and being exposed to the most heinous of harm that we can’t respond to because we can’t get our act together?”
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson called on the government to increase funding for the child abuse hotline.
“An effective child protection system begins with an efficient reporting mechanism,” Ms Sanderson said.