Foster care support workers spend more time “driving desks than visiting children”, the Royal Commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is conducting hearings to learn about the policies and practices of state and territory governments to protect children.

The inquiry has heard that while the number of Australian children who can no longer live safely at home increases (and children are entering care earlier and staying longer), is it becoming more difficult for public servants to support them.

Deputy secretary of Tasmania's Human Services Department, Tony Kemp, said the goal was for workers to spend 80 per cent of their time with children in care and 20 per cent on paperwork.

But, Kemp says, these numbers have been reversed.

“[The current child protection system] has created its own paradox,” he said.

“Seeking to be compliant with all of the instructions and requirements and procedures and policies... workers are inadvertently spending more time engaging in that element of the work and less time in actually building a relationship which takes time,” he said.

“The knowledge is there, the desire and the will is there very often.

“The voices of the child in that space are loud and clear, and the voices and the theory are loud and clear but we have created an architecture which I believe prevents workers from engaging in that in a purposeful and meaningful way.”

Acting head of out-of-home care in the Northern Territory, Simone Jackson, said staff shortages were not helping.

“When you keep having reforms or reviews you do build up an element of a distrustful workforce,” she said.

“What comes out of that is that staff somehow didn't follow a policy or a procedure.

“On occasion in the two jurisdictions I've worked for you can be up to 40 per cent deficit with staffing numbers.

“We have to reverse it to the point that people want to reinvest in these roles and have an opportunity to reinvest in the relationship component, not being stuck with the admin component.”