Report snapshot: Oversight of the child protection system

About this report 

This audit assessed the effectiveness of the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) in planning, designing, and overseeing the NSW child protection system. 

The audit used 'follow the dollar' powers to assess the performance of five non-government organisations (NGOs), that were contracted to provide child protection services. More information about how we did this is included in the full report.


The NSW child protection system is inefficient, ineffective, and unsustainable.

Despite recommendations from numerous reviews, DCJ has not redirected its resources from a ‘crisis 
driven’ model, to an early intervention model that supports families at the earliest point in the child protection process.

DCJ's organisational structure and governance  arrangements do not enable system reform. 

DCJ has over 30 child protection governance committees with no clarity over how decisions are made or communicated, and no clarity about which part of DCJ is responsible for leading system improvement. 

DCJ's assessments of child protection reports are labour intensive and repetitive, reducing the time that caseworkers have to support families with services.

DCJ has limited evidence to inform investments in family support services due to a lack of data about the 
therapeutic service needs of children and families. This means that DCJ is not able to provide relevant services 
for families engaged in the child protection system. DCJ is not meeting its legislated responsibility to ensure that families have access to services, and to prevent children from being removed to out of homecare. 

DCJ does not monitor the wellbeing of children in out of home care. This means that DCJ does not have the information needed to meet its legislative responsibility to ensure that children 'receive such care and protection as is necessary for their safety, welfare and well-being’. 

In August 2023, there were 471 children living in costly and inappropriate environments, such as hotels, motels, and serviced apartments. The cost of thisemergency accommodation in 2022–2023 was $300million. DCJ has failed to establish ‘safe, nurturing, stable and secure’ accommodation for children in these environments. 

Since 2018–19, the number of children being returned to their parents from out of home care has declined. During the five years to 2022–23, families have had limited access to restoration services to support this process. 


The audit made 11 recommendations to DCJ. They require the agency toidentify accountability for system reform, and to take steps to ensure that children and families have access to necessary services and support.

Fast facts

  • 404,611 child protection reports to the NSW Helpline 2022–2023 
  • 112,592 children suspected as being at risk of significant harm 2022–2023 
  • 14,473 children in out of home care as at 30 June 2023 
  • $3.1b spent across all child protection services in 2022–2023 
  • $1.9b spent on out of home care services in 2022–2023 
  • $0.4b spent on family support services in 2022–2023 

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.