---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Sat, 4 Apr 1998 08:18:50 -0400 From: Sandra MacNeil <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> Reply-To: Electronic Democracy in Nova Scotia <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> To: [EMAIL PROTECTED] Subject: Child Welfare in N.S./Cape Breton I'm sending the list a document issued publicly this week on the state of Child Welfare in Nova Scotia, and particularly in Cape Breton. The document is authored by myself as president of CUPE Local 3010. I'm attaching it as a text document although it was created in Word 6 so some of the formatting may be lost. The document has been sent to the CB Post, Chronicle Herald, and to the three Political Party caucus offices (although the one to the Liberals I had to send to the Premier's office with a request to pass it to the caucus, as there is no email address available for it). I hope you will find time to read it, think about it and perhaps become involved to seek a change for the better. This week's report from the National Council on Welfare reflects on issues that are certainly apparent in the Child Welfare system here. I can't help but remember a 1978 publication of theirs called 'Poor Kids', that detailed the state of childhood poverty in this country. The situation now, 20 years later and despite all our 'progress' is much much worse. Thanks.
Child Welfare services are critically ill. Over the past few months as reports in the media detailed the deaths of children in New Brunswick, Ontario, and British Columbia, the anxiety level of many child welfare workers in this area rose dramatically, not only because they genuinely care about their clients and the quality of their work in efforts to prevent tragedy, but also because when a tragedy occurs or something goes wrong, the common practice seems to be, ‘blame the worker’. There is an assumption that the worker didn’t do enough, visit enough, didn’t remove the child when they should have or returned the child when they shouldn’t have. Workers in the system become angry because there is little acknowledgment of the problems within the child welfare system, the limitations, the understaffing, the focus on documentation and administrative tasks at the expense of direct work with clients, and the fact that Judges rule on the removal and return of children. And they wonder when, not if it will happen here because of the severe lack of necessary services to children and families. They forget that for the most part the public, the community, does not know what goes on within the system. Child Welfare workers often lead lives of quiet desperation: ‘desperation’ because of the severity of problems and lack of resources they cope with on a daily basis, and ‘quiet’ because they fear for their jobs if they try to do anything about the inadequacy of services. They work in a system that expresses concern for the welfare and rights of children, but on a daily basis perform tasks that do more to serve the interests of bureaucracy and government than the interests of children and their families. Social Workers who do child welfare are licensed professionals in this province, professionals who are encouraged to believe that they exercise some autonomy over their work activity. The only people who believe that, are those who ignore the reality of the workplace. They work in bureaucracies where they have little or no control over their assignments, where they lack input into policy decisions that affect services to clients, where there is increasing routinization and structuring of the tasks of the job, and where policy decisions that impact negatively on their clients are made against their recommendations. They are pressured to refrain from speaking publicly about the problems in the system in the name of confidentiality and in the interests of public confidence in the system, discouraged and punished within the workplace when they challenge and question practices that are not in the interests of clients and subjected to disciplinary actions when they stick their necks out in the name of quality service delivery. They are obliged to follow policies set down by the provincial government, policies that are ‘apple pie and motherhood’ , but are not supported by financial resources. They are forced to watch silently as services that genuinely help people are sacrificed in the name of fiscal responsibility, and as economic cost is identified as the main issue to be considered in decision making. Throughout, the human cost of such decision making is ignored. Despite the lack of control over their work, front line workers know that when something goes wrong, the buck will stop with them. The reality is that workers are isolated, unsupported, and powerless and the implicit message to them in the workplace is that they are inadequate because they cannot keep up with the volumes of paperwork and administrative tasks required of them, or solve the devastating child welfare problems confronting their clients. Front line workers now spend far more time in administrative tasks than in seeing and working with clients. People who entered the profession out of a genuine desire to help alleviate human suffering and problems soon come to a realization that their work is of limited use to their clients, and limited satisfaction to themselves. Many have learned that the only way to do a marginally better job for their clients is to break rules, and then try to cope with the resulting guilt, anxiety and stress. Often, at the first opportunity, they move on to other jobs. The high turnover of front line staff has a serious detrimental effect on service delivery, as agencies are constantly in the position of deploying new and/or inexperienced workers. Unfortunately that turnover and burnout on the job is generally attributed to the nature of the client problems the workers deal with, rather than to the bureaucratic structure which is the real culprit. Last spring, the Minister of Community Services of the day noted that the 14 Children’s Aid Societies in the Province had a total budget of 25 million dollars, and were 4 million dollars over budget. The Minister indicated that he planned to look at areas where expenses could be reduced without compromising services to children. The Minister indicated in his press statement that he may have to look at high court costs, and seemed to be suggesting that Mediation of cases would be cheaper than costs associated with bringing a case to court. That may be true, however child welfare cases are brought to court when children are at risk. How does one mediate risk to a child? There is no question that costs associated with child welfare court cases have become extremely high. Many workers feel that these costs have increased dramatically at least partly because of the emphasis the legislation places on the right of parents not to lose their parental rights, rather than on the rights of the child. Workers also ask why we are willing to pay out enormous sums to lawyers and experts, when we are not willing to give practical assistance to parents and children? Even the suggestion of Mediation calls for moneys to bring in and pay the fees of another ‘expert’, rather than paying for concrete services to families. The Cape Breton area has experienced serious losses in service and resources for child welfare over the past few years, yet costs are described as soaring, and agencies and workers have been under daily pressure to cut back and to limit costs. There are some startling contradictions apparent: - there is increased obligation on workers and agencies to provide services for children and families pursuant to the child welfare legislation and provincial government policy; yet funding for direct services to clients has been severely cut and/or eliminated. These are services that were preventive in nature and described by clients as truly helpful, and would include: *funding for mentors for children in families carried as Protection cases, providing an adult role model for the child in an effort to encourage the development of positive self-esteem and setting of goals for the future ; *funding for transportation and child care to allow for parent attendance at counseling, treatment, or to allow for respite for a parent who has 24 hour a day, 7 days a week parenting responsibilities; *funding for transportation and day care costs for children from Protection situations in the interests of positive stimulation and socialization of the child; *funding for social and recreational activities for children in Protection families, to enhance development and self-esteem; *facilitation of groups for parents, for women, for adolescents, and for children - groups whose focus was self- esteem, support, education, problem solving, anger management, etc. -While direct funding for clients has been cut and/or eliminated, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent for legal fees and expert witness reports on cases that are being brought to Family Court. This enormous amount of money is spent for professional fees that involve a minority of cases as the vast majority of cases never go to court. It is felt that many of the cases that are in court would not have to be there if the services that were previously available for families as described above were still funded. - while monies are not available or denied for clients who require services as described above, there seems to be no problem for the agency to access unlimited monies for legal services and arbitration fees in disputes with the Union that could be resolved at a level prior to arbitration; - the agency has had money to pay relocation fees when it hired new workers who lived in other areas of the country; - job vacancies have often not been filled in a timely fashion in the interests of balancing the budget; - the agency gave up an adolescent treatment centre (known as ‘Bairncroft’) which provided short term placement and treatment for adolescents who were in conflict with parents, as well as emergency placements for adolescents in crisis situations; Staff was advised this was because the cost of $50, 000. was too expensive. - the agency closed two group homes for adolescents for financial reasons; one, while still owned by the agency, has been made available to another social service agency which serves adults, the other became a residential setting for girls; We do not have sufficient appropriate placements for adolescents at the present time because of the loss of these two group homes and Bairncroft. - Because of the loss of the Adolescent Treatment Centre and its ability to deal with crisis situations, the service (and ultimately the residents) of both the Boys’ and Girls’ Residential Centres has been negatively impacted, as they have had to accommodate many crisis situations which interfere with their program goals; It now appears that there is going to be a further cutback in these residential services; - several children in the care of the agency have had to be placed hundreds of miles away from their communities and families at a cost of approximately $10,000. per month each, because there are no facilities here to accommodate them; - the agency gave up its position of Single Parent Counselor. This eliminated single moms considering options for an unborn child having a choice of counseling services, as it is now available only through another private agency. However a considerable portion of the work of the eliminated position remains and has been added to the tasks of the agency adoption worker. - the agency is going to eliminate the position for the Community Outreach Service for Victoria County, the last clearly preventative program the agency has, one which has prevented families from becoming Protection cases. The management of the agency wants it to go to another agency; This would appear to be the result of a change in funding by the provincial government which established the position in response to lobbying efforts by residents of Victoria County and previously provided separate funding for it. - the agency does not have enough workers to carry out court ordered services to facilitate access visits for children. The agency has now apparently contracted with a for-profit business in the area to take over this service which involves taking children to and from access visits and sometimes supervising them, as well as other tasks. It appears that government is making available to them an amount of money higher than was previously available to provide the service. Agency workers will have to contact the company when they require these services for children and families. These are services that for the most part should be done by Agency Social Workers who are provincially licensed. Why would the agency not secure this funding to run the service itself? It has been demonstrated repeatedly that when human services are provided by ‘for profit’ businesses, the result is often a decline in the quality of service and an increase in costs. In addition, it raises serious questions about client confidentiality. - Counseling services in the area are severely limited with extensive waiting lists. Children experiencing mental health and emotional difficulties are particularly disadvantaged. There is no child psychiatrist here, there is an extensive waiting list for counseling even for children with pressing problems, appointments are sometimes not as frequent as required because of the demand for service, there is no unit in the Regional Hospital for in- patient treatment for them and workers’ experience has been that children and adolescents cannot easily access in- patient mental health services at the IWK or Nova Scotia Hospital, despite the fact that Cape Breton residents pay an amount in taxes equal to residents of Halifax, for these services. One worker recalled an instance in which an adolescent was sent on a return trip by ambulance to Yarmouth for diagnosis because of the absence of a child psychiatrist here. One has only to think back a short time to a series of adolescent suicides in our communities, to become concerned about these gaps in service. Various Cape Breton professionals have had a committee here to secure services for at least the last seven years, but they apparently lack the political clout to make a difference. The only difference workers are seeing is a decrease in what was previously available in outpatient counseling services. We are losing children and families. While many problems in the child welfare system are experienced across the province, the state of child welfare in this area is much like the state of the Cape Breton economy - undervalued, underdeveloped and apparently unimportant to the powers that be. We are experiencing ever increasing unemployment and poverty and all the extras that come with it - increased levels of stress, feelings of inadequacy, addictions to substances and to gambling, frustration and intolerance. There is enormous stress on families, particularly those who cannot provide for their children the things other children have and do. We all experience problems in parenting. Those of us who have a regular income from a job, access to extended family as a support network, and money available to take our children out for a treat or activity, find parenting a demanding, daunting task. Imagine the situation of the parent who does not have those resources, those supports. In addition we have a population of young people who have little hope in the future. We ourselves seem to lack a vision, a dream of how things should be or any hope that we can change things for the better. Social workers in child welfare in this province are bound by a Code of Ethics. Article 10 of that Code states, in part, ‘ A social worker shall advocate change (a) in the best interest of the client…’ ‘ A social worker shall advocate for the equal distribution of resources to all persons…’ ‘ A social worker shall advocate for the equal access of all persons to resources, services and opportunities…’ and Article 8, in part, ‘ A social worker shall advocate for workplace conditions and policies that are consistent with the Code…’ CUPE Local 3010 represents workers of the Children’s Aid Society of Cape Breton. We are using the vehicle of the union to state our position in order to provide some protection to the workers involved and because social justice is a defined goal of labour organizations. Our goal in making this statement is to begin to address policies and practices in child welfare that are having a negative impact on children in our community. We believe they deserve a better deal. We want to bring community focus to the things that can be done to change the situation and to see community energies mobilized to do that very thing. The first step is to identify problem areas for the people whose service it is, the public who is paying the bills, the public whose children are the future. Some of us have talked about coming together in the interests of improving these services; in demanding a reallocation of funding for services that will help children to have their needs met. We think that the money is already there - but that there needs to be a re-ordering of priorities so that funding goes to those who need it for services that are required. We have gone through the ‘appropriate’ channels with our concerns: to the administration of the agency, to its Board of Directors, to the Provincial Government. We continue to watch as, contrary to what the government Minister said last year, services to children are compromised. We do not want to expend our energies on ‘blaming’ some one or some institution for the present situation. We believe Child Welfare is a community responsibility. We believe that a fully informed public would be prepared to take some action to address these problems that affect all of us as a community. The public must decide if it is satisfied with the status quo or if it wants to facilitate a change. We are asking that you as a member of the community decide if this is a priority for you or if you are satisfied. Is anyone out there interested in working for a change for the better? If you are, please contact the undersigned so that it can be determined if there is enough interest to call a public meeting. Members of CUPE 3010 are prepared to arrange for an initial meeting time and place and to assist wherever possible. Sandra MacNeil, RSW, President, CUPE Local 3010.
Sandra MacNeil, Sydney River, N.S.