The Department of Community Services is never far away from the front pages. As the special commission of inquiry is about to get underway, the Public Service Association has gone public with the views of its members, who are the people at the centre of the storm. The overwhelming message from the people who have to actually do this work is that they are under funded, understaffed and under resourced. Even where there is funding for staff there are positions which remain vacant because of difficulties in recruiting.
Of course, the views of the workers at DOCS represent just one perspective, and may be colored by self-interest. But generally speaking it is usually the people who have to do the actual work who are best placed to identify just what needs to done to deliver a satisfactory outcome. This is true in Community Services, Health, or any other field of service delivery. In this case, the survey done by the P. S. A. indicates that the problem is not just about “what” is done, but “how” it is done. While money is pumped into the department, not enough of it finds its way into practical resources such as child seats in department cars. This is the department responsible for child safety, yet in many cases if a child needs to be transported in a department car, there is no seat. Such things should be a matter of common sense.
Those who deal with DOCS from the other side of the counter also have important observations to offer. Those who might be referred to as “customers” have their own, often negative, experiences to report, and as we have seen last week, foster carers also have difficulties dealing with the department. From accusations of a lack of transparency or accountability, through to allegations of an interfering and meddlesome minister, there is no shortage of criticisms being leveled at the Department.
While it remains to be seen just what the findings of the Wood Commission of Inquiry will be, it is clear that things cannot continue as they are.