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Monday, October 12, 2015

The British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth Nails it Again

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is the Representative for Children and Youth in British Columbia. She has just issued a report, The Thin Front Line that analyzes staffing and related problems in the province's child welfare system. It's a read that is relevant to child protection authorities across Canada and likely elsewhere.

She states that "The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving." She adds that the complexities of working in child protection have increased over time but there are fewer workers to manage these caseloads. This should sound familiar in many places.  She notes that workers have had to struggle with budgetary cuts, staff shortages, high turnover and pressure to meet strict timelines.

The government of B.C. says she is working with old data. Perhaps so, but the issues that Turpel-Lafond raises are hardly new. Thus, there may be some improvement but one doubts that the picture is much out of focus given what is seen in scrutiny of child protection throughout the Western world. Indeed, her themes very much mirror my own research on child protection errors. Her conclusions also strongly mirror reviews done by many authors.

Where she gets the story quite straight is in her major themes:

  • Workloads are high and complex;
  • Processes change and are not necessarily clinically focused;
  • The issues that must be dealt with are often connected to long standing inequities that may be beyond the capacity of a worker to solve. An example is the legacy of the Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop which decimated the parenting and family structure in Canada's First Nations communities;
  • Bureaucracy is a burden that takes many hours away from clinical work;
  • It's tough work so people leave and it's hard to get replacements quickly;
  • The geography of Canada (in this case B.C.) means that many rural and remote communities get spotty services;
  • Clinical supervision is required regularly but there are not enough supervisors to manage the needs;
  • She found too many offices operating in crisis mode which tends to lead to "band aid" social work, as she put it.

Turpel-Lafond offers several recommendations which include:

  • Sufficient budgets to address the staffing and workload issues;
  • Improve the management systems to reflect the complexity and volume of cases;
  • Track performance and respond to gaps or poor results;
  • Get more First Nations workers in place.
She notes that there have been some positive steps such as the introduction of the Family Development Response to help support families with lower intensity issues. 

These are not new issues so perhaps the one question she did not ask that needs asking is "Why do these issues keep happening, time and again, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction?" In other words, we are consistently getting it wrong. So how can it be done better. Public reviews need to start talking about that versus repeating themes and recommendations we have seen so often --- or is that governments are not really committed to child protection beyond the band aids? Is that governments don't really want to tackle the complex socio-economic factors that lead to children being at risk - poverty, inter-generational trauma, mental health and addictions and so on?