Greater oversight of child welfare needed, says expert

Greater oversight of child welfare needed, says expert

A damning report has revealed a number of major flaws in the NSW Department of Education’s unit tasked with investigating misconduct complaints.

The review into the function and operations of the Department’s Employee Performance and Conduct (EPAC) unit was commissioned by NSW Department Secretary Mark Scott to enquire into the investigation and management of employee misconduct by EPAC.

Among the findings were that some teachers had been approved for teaching despite being banned, massive delays in action response times and staff being banned despite no findings of misconduct.

"The lack of adequate human resources is the main reason why EPAC has had such long-standing problems with the timeliness of investigations and the inadequacy of communication with PSOAs, alleged victims and school managers,” said former crown prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, who led the Review.

"Whilst some of the backlog of cases was dealt with during 2018, the delays still continue to be acceptable."

Tedeschi said delays in the completion of investigations “created havoc” in the lives of those who are being investigated and create “black holes” in schools, when principals are unable to fill the positions of those employees who have been suspended or placed on alternative duties.

"The human cost of extensive delays is huge; the financial cost to the Department is considerable,” he said.

"EPAC submitted to the Review that the executive director raises any issues of undue delay with the relevant EPAC team director for their management.”

However, Tedeschi pointed out that numerous stakeholders have said that complaints of extensive delays have often been “met with silence” from EPAC or with letters “containing little or no real information”.

‘Report encouraging, but doesn’t go far enough’

Dr David Roy from the University of Newcastle, who works closely with governments and disability advocacy groups, said he was “deeply shocked” about the finding that EPAC allows teachers who had the working with children check removed the right to continue teaching.

“I was also shocked that EPAC does not have a database where they can call upon previous allegations to see if there has been a pattern of behaviour in the same way that the police and family social services do,” Dr Roy told The Educator.

“I was horrified but unsurprised that EPAC does not have a consistent following of policy or implementation to decide what is a minor or major allegation.”

However, Dr Roy said that for Secretary Mark Scott to release the whole report demonstrates that he wants “significant change” within EPAC.

“Still, the report shows a deeply flawed system and I think the recommendations don’t go far enough because of that,” he said.

“Even a review panel of processes that was suggested is an internal panel and is still the Department reviewing itself. There needs to be wider outside oversight of such arcane issues for school staff but also child welfare.”