THE Hunter and Central Coast is short 34 community services caseworkers, the government has finally acknowledge.
And the number of reports of children at risk of significant harm in the area has risen to more than 17,000.
New figures show that 17,603 reports of children at risk of significant harm were made in the Hunter and Central Coast in 2012-13, out of 104,817 reports across the state.
It was the second largest amount of any region, behind the state’s north, and an increase from 16,134 reports that were made in the Hunter and Central Coast in 2011-12.
The figures, released in the wake of internal leaks about a state-wide shortage of caseworkers, confirm one in four children at risk of significant harm in the region have had a face-to-face assessment by a caseworker.
The Hunter and Central Coast is short 34 full-time caseworkers, according to the latest quarterly figures.
It is supposed to have 301 caseworkers, but was down to 267 from April to June.
Across 2012-13, the area was on average short 26 positions, during which time staff in several Community Services in the Hunter walked off the job in protest.
Labor leader John Robertson said the figures confirmed what the government ‘‘has been trying to hide for months’’ – a significant staff shortage.
“This is about the protection of the most vulnerable children in our community – and the O’Farrell government has left the region 34 caseworkers short and continued to make cuts,’’ Mr Robertson said.
Family and Community Services minister Pru Goward, who has been accused of misleading parliament about the vacancies by saying ‘‘budgeted positions’’ remained the same, said publication of the figures would put an end to the culture of secrecy under Labor.
They also showed caseworkers saw 5,200 more children in 2012-13 than were seen in 2010 under Labor, Ms Goward said.
But Mr Robertson said the minister had refused to reveal caseworker numbers for individual offices.
‘‘Instead the Minister has chosen to publish caseworker numbers at a regional level to hide the real situation on the ground in individual offices,’’ he said.
Ms Goward said further details would be published.