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Message to Child Welfare Social Workers

Dear members,

In a report to a standing committee on community services on September 3, Leonard Doiron, the province’s executive director of Child, Youth and Family Supports, argued that working conditions have improved over the last few years for child protection social workers and that there were fewer children in care. He was quoted as saying most social workers are “as excited as we are about these changes (to Bill 112).”

This is not what we have heard from the membership or from the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers and shows how Doiron is out of touch with the reality of working conditions for front-line child protection social workers. There were over 80 amendments made to the Act including such things as expanding the definition of a child in need of protective services to include youth 16-19 years of age, and tightened court timelines, just to name a few. These additional responsibilities did not come with the appropriate additional resources.

As a result of this and other pressures, many of our members and the children, youth, and families they serve have been in crisis. This is why we launched our joint campaign with the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (https://childwelfareonthebrink.org/) and why we continue to advocate for increased investment in social services and child welfare.

We are pleased to have recently negotiated new regional Labour-Management Committees for child protection social workers and are hopeful we will be able to develop timely strategies to improve working conditions. Our Child Protection members have been working under increasingly stressful caseloads since the changes were made to the Act (Bill 112) without any additional resources in the system.

We stand behind this well written OP Ed by Lynn Brogan, Acting Director of the NSCSW and wanted to share it with you, the members. We have shared it on our Facebook site as well.

OPINION: Nova Scotia’s Troubled Child Welfare System

LYNN BROGAN BSW, MSW, RSW

On Tuesday, September 3, 2019, the Standing Committee on Community Services was offered conflicting accounts on the state of child welfare in Nova Scotia. Our college views the comments presented by the Department of Community Services as a missed opportunity to inform elected officials of not only the positive strides being made by their department, but also of what is not going well. Information is power, and it is critical to equip our elected officials with the ability to make informed decisions that can make a difference in the lives of Nova Scotians.

The fact remains that Nova Scotia’s child welfare services are underfunded, and many children and youth in this system are not doing well. We need to do something about that.

Community Services stated the budget for their Child, Youth and Family Support Division has increased from $85 million in 2015-2016 to $96 million in 2019-2020. Without a critical analysis of where the increases were allocated, this should be viewed with scrutiny. What we do know is the increase represents about 5% when you factor inflation, and very few much needed resources went to increasing the number of frontline social workers.

Our members have consistently reported to us, and to their union, chronic challenges in the child welfare system. Some of these challenges include:

  • Unmanageable workload, high caseloads, and clients with ever-increasing complex needs. DCS policy on caseloads is over 20 years old and does not reflect current realities.
  • Increased administrative requirements and lack of administrative support.
  • Constant staff turnover, as well as recruitment and retention issues that affect the ability to serve families and children.
  • A high rate of system-wide changes, which challenges the readiness of staff and community organizations to implement the changes.
  • Lack of adequate services and programs in the community to meet the complex needs of children, youth and families, and the lack of coordination of these resources.
  • Unsupportive work environments.
  • Lack of professional development and training.
  • The emotional toll experienced from the work results in increased illnesses, burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.

These challenges create a system in which social workers are going from crisis to crisis. Social workers go above and beyond in this province, and they are the glue that holds the child welfare system together. The chronic underfunding of social programs and necessary social work staffing often prevents social workers from doing the work they know would make a difference in the lives of the children, youth and families they serve.

Nova Scotia social workers have shared the above challenges they have experienced not only with our college but with their union, the NSGEU. What we have heard from social workers in this province is mirrored in a recent 2018 National Study conducted by the Canadian Association of Social Workers which involved thousands of social workers (“Understanding Social Work and Child Welfare: Canadian Survey and Interviews with Child Welfare Experts”).

The first priority of our college is the protection of the public, and we see an urgent need in Nova Scotia for government to make a real investment in social programs such as child welfare. Families must be supported when they first encounter challenges, in effort to prevent more serious problems that demand more intrusive solutions.

The financial investment a government makes speaks to their priorities. The provision of much needed services and supports to vulnerable children, youth and families must be a priority in Nova Scotia, and as such an all-party commitment to increase the funding in child welfare is required to reduce the risk to vulnerable children, youth and families so they may experience success and thrive.

Lastly, there is a lack of a community voice and oversight of the child welfare system. Nova Scotia remains one of the few provinces that has not implemented an independent Child and Youth Advocate Office. As Rollie Thompson, a law professor at Dalhousie University, told the committee on Tuesday, an independent advocate office would ensure that policy discussions are informed by the voices of vulnerable children and youth. This office would provide accountability and transparency within the system that cares for the most vulnerable in our society.

Lynn Brogan is the Acting Executive Director / Registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

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