Pillowcases were pegged on a makeshift clothesline at Coniston on Monday to highlight the plight of up to 200 NSW children who call a hotel or motel room home every night.
The Public Service Association (PSA) claims vulnerable kids have been hung out to dry by the NSW government and a “child protection system in crisis”.
Union delegates gathered near the Department of Family and Community Services’ (FACS) Bridge Steet office on Monday to launch the PSA’s “Safe Hands” campaign.
PSA assistant general secretary Troy Wright said child protection was the public’s business and “should be kept in the safe hands of the public sector”.
Mr Wright said children were being removed from situations of risk and placed into “completely unsuitable, insecure and potentially dangerous accommodation”, due to a critical shortage of appropriate alternatives.
There were not enough out-of-home care places for the number of at-risk children who needed it, he said.
“The department has been relying on short-term, which have become long-term, temporary placements in hotels, which we say are wholly unsuitable,” Mr Wright told the Mercury.
“We’re aware of every night that there’s between 100 and 200 children in this sort of form of accommodation, they’ve been removed from unsuitable placements elsewhere.
“The major concern for us isn’t just the number of children in this form of care, it’s how long these placements are being used for.
“It’s not one night, two nights here or there, we’re hearing stories of children in this sort of arrangement for weeks, months and even up to a year.”
Mr Wright described the effect of hotel/motel accommodation on a children’s wellbeing as “horrific”.
“We’ve all stayed in a hotel for one or two nights but to have that as your permanent base,” he said.
The union said hotel/motel accommodation was the government’s solution when no foster placements or other care could be found.
Supervision was being provided by private contractors at a cost of between $12,000 and $16,000 a week, per child, Mr Wright said.
“Being supervised by essentially a stranger, provided through a labour-hire firm, is completely unsuitable for children who are vulnerable enough and have been through enough,” he said.
A FACS spokesman said: “Placing children in serviced apartments and motels is a last resort and is only considered when emergency carers or short-term carers are not available.”
“Last year we brought around 2900 children into care, which despite being a 25 per cent reduction on the previous year, was still more children than places immediately available, either with extended family or in foster carers’ homes,” he said.
The spokesman said FACS had begun a $2 million campaign to find short-term carers and was funding non-government organisations to maintain a surplus of both short-term and emergency foster carers.