SA child protection worker psychometric testing in limbo

A new psychometric testing regime for South Australia's child protection workers has been put into limbo, with the public sector union lodging a dispute in the Industrial Relations Commission.

The testing is already used for new applicants, but Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin has concerns about 350 current residential care workers being put under the same scrutiny.

"First and foremost, it is the welfare of the children that is paramount to everybody involved in this matter, but there are also very serious industrial rights and privileges that are entitled to employees," he said.

"They [staff] have been through the wringer and yet again they feel they are being targeted as being the culprits."

The crimes of paedophile carer Shannon McCoole exposed big weaknesses in the state's child protection system.

The tougher testing regime comes after the Child Protection Systems Royal Commission, which recommended that new workers undergo psychological assessment.

It did not directly recommend the same for existing workers, whom the department argues should be subject to ongoing suitability checks.

"What happened in the past [with Shannon McCoole's offending] was diabolical," Mr Kitchin said.

"I mean, nobody can forget what this particular employee did — nor should we.

The psychometric test would examine an employee's personality and aptitude for any signs of a risk, with a one-on-one interview with a psychologist to follow.

Any staff red flagged would be re-trained, shifted elsewhere or potentially dismissed.

It is not clear when the dispute will be heard in the Industrial Relations Commission, but the Department for Child Protection had wanted to start testing immediately and have it finished by April.

Evaluation results to be kept private

SA Department for Child Protection chief executive Cathy Taylor said evaluation results would be kept private and in a secure place separate to the personnel file.

"It should be interpreted by someone with expertise.

"But we do need to use it to make that critical assessment — are these people psychologically suitable and well and are they able and fit to work with children?"

Ms Taylor said the department would work alongside staff and the PSA to address any concerns about the assessment process.

Exact nature of proposed testing unclear: union

Mr Kitchin said until the matter was resolved, testing should not take place.

"Where we lodge a dispute, the matter should be dealt with as the status quo. So, in these circumstances the department should not be issuing letters to the employees advising them that they are required to undergo the psych testing," he said.

The union was worried staff who failed may not be able to appeal and would not be told why they did not pass.

"We still don't know the test they will be using," Mr Kitchin said.

"There is some anecdotal evidence that the tests that they're using is based upon answers given by existing convicted paedophiles and these particular circumstances that may not even suit what the department are trying to do," Mr Kitchin said.

Mr Kitchin was also concerned the new testing regime had yet to be enforced on the commercial sector, which currently cares for 180 children under guardianship.

The ABC has sought a response from the department.

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