---------- 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]>
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.


     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

          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
                *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

         - 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

          - 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.

Reply via email to