Brief On Child Protection Presented to The Honourable Dr. Dennis Furlong Minister of Health and Community Services Government of New Brunswick By Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1418
Local 1418 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents workers in the field of social work, rehabilitation, psychology, therapy, recreation and culture, all over New Brunswick. Our members are front line workers who on a day to day basis confront all the social problems facing our society.
One of the most important of those social problems is the care of children. Because of the many social problems in our society, some children are neglected, not getting the proper care they deserve, not fed properly, do not live in sanitary conditions, and are physically and emotionally abused.
In recent years the neglect of children has caused the death of at least three children in our province. First, it was the tragic death of John Ryan Turner in May 1994 in Miramichi, then the death of Jacqueline Dawn Brewer on December 17, 1996 in Saint John, and the death of Courtney Grimmer on January 22, 1997 in Fredericton. These deaths have brought a lot of public and media attention. All three cases resulted in parents being charged in court. Some of that attention has raised the issue of what we are doing as a society for our children. Some of that attention has focussed on what is the government doing for the protection of children. Other attention has focussed on the work of social workers.
In the case of the death of John Ryan Turner, the Department of Health and Community Services commissioned a study. For the case of Jacqueline Dawn Brewer, another report was done entitled A Report by the Child Death Review Committee on the Death of Jacqueline Dawn Brewer. In both cases the Department of Health and Community Services said that in general it would follow the recommendations of the reports.
After A Report by the Child Death Review Committee on the Death of Jacqueline Dawn Brewer was completed the then Minister gave her answer to the report, and our union presented a brief to the Department of Health and Community Services in October 1998. In this brief, called Canadian Union of Public Employee Local 1418 Position on A Report by the Child Death Review Committee on the Death of Jacqueline Dawn Brewer (the report) and on the answer of Honourable Minister Ann Breault to the report, we pointed out « that the government establish a plan to provide more services to the people of New Brunswick. This plan should include the hiring of more front line social workers in all areas of the province, with the clear purpose of diminishing the workload of social workers, and providing better services. » This document was also made public at a press conference on October 1, 1998.
Then, on October 29, 1998, our union was invited by the Deputy Minister Paul Lebreton to participate in a big project on child welfare. We knew that this was important and the government had our full collaboration and the complete participation of our members concerned. Over one hundred social workers gave their time and their energy above and beyond their regular workload. Twelve committees were established and meetings were held from November of 1998 to June of 1999. Six and sometimes seven days a month were spent at those meetings. Some of the committees are still meeting up to this date. People involved were proud to be part of a study they felt could finally give results on such important problem. Their commitment was one of professional people concerned for the children of this province. Matters like childcare, adoption, child residential services (foster care), training, standards, and human resources were discussed at length. Written reports were or are in the process of being prepared on all those topics.
When the study was launched, the Deputy Minister made a statement that the Department was committed to the work done by social workers, and that they deserved the moral and legal support necessary in the occurrence of a child death.
People dont realize the extent of the work, and the responsibilities of social workers. The work of front line social workers in child protection has been detailed in one of the reports done during the study. Among the main tasks did you know that?
· 14 hours of work are necessary to finish an inquiry with a volume of 4,103 inquiries a year.
· 9.5 hours of work are necessary for a complete inquiry of a file already in the hands of a social worker in child protection with a volume of 385 inquiries a year.
· 7 hours of work are necessary when a child is taken away from his or her family and we have witnessed a volume of 575 children moved.
· 25 hours of work are necessary for the preparation of a first hearing in court for a total of 540 files a year.
· 35 additional hours of work are needed when there is a court hearing for a total of 150 court trials a year.
· 5 hours of work are needed to do the preliminary risk evaluation for a total of 1,050 hours plus 1.5 extra hours for every revision for a total of 2,411 revisions a year.
· 6 hours of work are needed for each case planning in the family for a total of 1,298 plans.
· 10 hours of work are needed for each planning of children put in legal wards for a total of 306 children.
· 7.5 hours are needed for a revision of files opened over 2 years and that gives a volume of 416 files.
· 6 hours of work are needed to close a file in child protection for a volume of 952 files
We must add that the follow up done on all files, depending on the risk level and the legal status, is very time consuming. These tasks add to the problems and workload of social workers in child protection. Over the last years the complexity of cases has been increasing all the time. Because we are bound by a number of laws and regulations, preparing and attending a court case is very demanding and time consuming. With the present number of people on staff, the standards cannot be respected. Time limits, number of visits, and all the other matters in the standards are not abiding to, because of the lack of staff. Our members in those classifications are overwhelmed by the workload, and are feeling the stress related to having too much work, a responsibility to the children of this province, and not enough support from the provincial government.
In the end all the work done in 1998 and 1999 resulted in a number of reports called Child Protection Workload Measurement Team, Family and Community Social Services Division, Department of Health and Community Services, Staffing for Expectations, Childrens Residential Services, Workload Measurement Team, Family and Community Social Services Division, Department of Health and Community Services and Child in Care Workload Measurement Team Family and Community Social Services Division, Department of Health and Community Services. There is no doubt in our mind that these reports are excellent. They deal with the real issues in an honest and professional way. All of the 14 recommendations of the Child Protection report are going in the right direction. The same is true with the 13 recommendations of the Childrens Residential Services report, and the 12 recommendations of the Child in Care report. They all provide the necessary tools and ideas to improve dramatically the field of child protection.
We have one big concern: IMPLEMENTATION. These reports have now been in the hands of senior management in the Department of Health and Community Services for a number of months. The Minister from the previous government was briefed on the issue, and on the recommendations of these reports. Due to a change in government, the implementation of the principal recommendations of these reports was delayed. In the meantime, a number of less important recommendations have been put in place. We acknowledged that there are positive steps in the right direction. Now, the new Minister of Health and Community Services has the reports in his hands, and has been briefed for a certain time. We feel it is time to implement the main recommendations of these reports, which are: « 1. It is recommended that the Department staff the Child Protection Services with 143 additional Social Workers, as identified in this assessment, as soon as it is reasonably possible » ; and recommendation #1 of the Childrens Residential Services report where it says It is recommended that the Department staff the Childrens Residential Services with 10 additional Social Workers, as identified in this assessment to meet the requirements of existing Standards and Skill Assessment Model ; and recommendation #1 of the Child in Care Workload Measurement Team where it says that It is recommended that 19 additional Social Workers be hired immediately to adequately provide service to children in permanent care in New Brunswick. Without the implementation of these recommendations social workers will not get the necessary help to alleviate the workload problem and deal with the issue of child protection in a serious way. We are concerned that the role of social workers, as front line workers with great expertise in the field, is being put on the back burner. We do not understand the logic or the priority of the Department of Health and Community Services. On November 15 of 1999, the Department announced that: « A recommendation made under the Child Welfare Project has resulted in the recent allocation of 18 of the 300 new, permanent nursing positions to child protection services. » We do not want to diminish the role that nurses play in the system. But, the creation of nursing jobs was never part of the reports. At the same time, one has to acknowledge that it is still the social workers that are in the front line, and have the first and direct access to the child. We are also concerned with the latest early retirement package being offered to our members; 97 members of Local 1418 have received a letter and are eligible for early retirement; 63 of those members are in Health and Community Services. As all the reports have indicated, we are already under staffed. If those positions are not replaced immediately following the retirement of those people, the workload problem is going to get even worse.
Our members have been waiting too long. Citizens of New Brunswick have been waiting too long. Children who need protection can no longer wait. The suffering and the dying have to stop. We request that the recommendations of all three reports be implemented, and that the new budget for 2000 and 2001 has the necessary funds to hire the 143 new social workers in child protection, 10 in Childrens Residential Services and 19 in Children in Care. We also request that all retirements be replaced as people go on their pension.
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