CHILDREN and babies who have been removed from dangerous situations by the government are being put up in the same motels used as emergency accommodation for criminals on parole.
The extraordinary revelations have forced Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward to order her department to find alternative ways of temporarily housing children, describing the use of motels as “unacceptable”.
The move is expected to be welcomed by caseworkers who spoke to The Sunday Telegraph about their concerns over the practice.
However, Ms Goward has stopped short of endorsing calls by the Public Service Association to establish government-funded shelters.
“The decades-long practise of utilising motels and serviced apartments needs to end. It is unacceptable for children,” she said.
“I have instructed the department to look at and present me with alternative solutions but I will not rebuild institutions for children.
“There will be no more boys’ homes or female factories. Children in care need permanency and a safe home for life.”
The comments come ahead of Child Protection Week this week, with NSW Family and Community Services workers to march while carrying pillow cases tomorrow to represent each child put up in a motel.
Departmental figures reveal there were 142 children who were removed from their parents or carers being housed in motels, hotels or caravan parks last month.
“We have children staying here with adults, but I don’t know who they are.”
These are children who were removed from their parents after having been identified as being at risk of significant harm or those assessed as suitable for foster care but yet to be placed, or the result of a failed placement.
FACS caseworkers revealed some of the children were being housed in the same highway motels used by Housing NSW for its clients, which domestic violence victims “and parolees”.
While paid accommodation was supposed to be a stopgap measures, some children were living in motels for more than a year.
In one case late last year, a 12-week-old baby was put up in a motel for a week.
At the same time, the state government is outsourcing the “babysitting” to the private sector, with the union estimating as much as $16,000 was being spent per child per week.
The Sunday Telegraph spoke to the managers of two Sydney motels on the FACS and Housing NSW motel lists on Friday, with both confirming children and parolees had been accommodated.
“These children have often already experienced significant trauma and deserve professional, consistent and high-quality support.”
One of the managers, who declined to be identified, said he ended his contract with the government “over a year ago”, stating the children had been “too much trouble”.
“We have a lot of regular guests staying here and so I just ended it. Was too much trouble.”
Another Sydney motel manager said he still worked with both FACs and Housing NSW, although was unsure of the backgrounds of the children.
“We have children staying here with adults, but I don’t know who they are,” he said.
“We have people from prison, but only for one or two days.”
PSA Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright said not only was motel accommodation inappropriate, the use of private contractors to look after some of the state’s most vulnerable children was unacceptable.
“Children are being removed from situations of risk every week across NSW and placed in completely unsuitable, insecure and potentially dangerous accommodation,” Mr Wright said.
“These children have often already experienced significant trauma and deserve professional, consistent and high-quality support — they should never be housed and supervised by an unskilled, transient and unaccountable glorified babysitting service motivated by profit.”
A caseworker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the number of children being placed in motels had “exploded” in the past three years.
Some of motels used in regional NSW had “day” rates, the caseworker said.
“We know probation and parole use the same hotels as we do, so you could have someone who has committed a crime, released on bail and be at the same hotel as a child in care.”
Asked if FACS and Housing NSW worked together to ensure children in care and parolees were not in the same motel at the same time, a spokesman instead said the department relied on a list of motels that had been deemed “suitable” for women and children.
“There are some occasions where a FACS worker or authorised non-government worker does need to spend a short period in a motel not on this list,” he said.