'Horrifying' caged dog account sparks kids care review

It's obscenely expensive, often fails to do the basics and leaves children feeling like animals.

But despite a report determining an urgent need to replace it, the last-resort alternative care arrangements will continue shuttling dozens of children in care through NSW motels, hotel and caravan parks for the foreseeable future.

Titled "Moving Cage to Cage", the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People's report detailed first-hand accounts of youth in emergency accommodation after they were removed from their families for safety reasons.

Children described woeful and unsafe conditions in care as well as feelings of isolation and disconnection.

One of those interviewed by the advocate disclosed being sexually assaulted by a hotel guest when aged 12.

Another described being shuttled through facilities over more than 500 days made them feel like a "dog being moved from cage to cage."

A third described a conveyer belt of workers as "just random people every day" came in assigned to watch over them.

"There's been no evidence that has come to me that these arrangements are good for children and young people," the independent advocate Zoe Robinson said.

At any one time, between 400 and 500 children are in emergency accommodation, with about 70 in hotel-based alternative care arrangements.

Each care arrangement, lasting an average of five months, costs taxpayers more than $38,000 a week.

Children, who drew careful distinction between therapeutic carers and shift workers, spoke of being told to keep their bags packed so they could move at short notice.

Others complained that as well as a disrupted home life, they constantly moved schools or missed class for a myriad of reasons such as distance or poor mental health.

Families Minister Kate Washington said the children's accounts were "harrowing, confronting and horrifying".

"I'm determined to do every single thing that we can," she told reporters on Thursday.

That includes an urgent six-month review to uncover ways to end current emergency arrangements and put kids in safe homes.

NSW Families Minister Kate Washington (file image)
Families Minister Kate Washington says the system is obscenely expensive. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Spending, which has reached $870 million over the past five years, would also be scrutinised while a separate team has already been diverting children out of emergency care.

But alternative care arrangements would have to remain for the near future, Ms Washington said.

"If I could click my fingers and have kids out of hotels, motels and caravan parks tomorrow, I would," she said.

"This is a very complex situation."

Children and young people who shared their stories wanted stability and care and their needs had to be the central focus of any system redesign, Ms Robinson said.

"If you come from trauma, it is very hard if you're sitting in a hotel for your mental, physical and social wellbeing to well supported and feel like going to school," she said.

The interim report, written after 19 hearings across Sydney and regional NSW, will be followed by a final report due mid-year.

The government's review is due to report back by mid-November.