Two pink flags, one says SCFP, the other says CUPEChild protection workers and support staff at Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville (FCSLLG) have been stretched thin by mounting workloads and have decided to walk the picket line to pressure their employer to invest in services for vulnerable children.

After more than a year of bargaining between the nearly 100 members of CUPE 2577 and FCSLLG, the employer refused to address the workload needs or increase wages to better retain skilled and dedicated workers. The members saw little prospect to improve their working conditions and will be on strike as of 12:01 a.m. July 12.

“When we talk about cases and workload, we’re really talking about children. Every case is a child and a family who needs help. From the beginning of bargaining, we have been focused on getting the resources to ensure that help is there when it’s needed and I am incredibly disappointed that our employer refused to see the justice in our demands or the urgent challenges confronting families,” said Arlette Carrier, a child protection worker and CUPE 2577 President. “We’re focused on keeping children with their families and we work with children who are at very high risk living with their families. This work takes time to build safety plans with the family and community, build relationships with parents, meet with children and families, and provide the critical supports that keep children safe in their family home. More reasonable workloads would mean more time to support families and keep children safe.”

Legislation introduced in 2018 shifted the focus of child protection, putting more emphasis on early intervention and prevention to ensure children are safe with their families and can stay in their community. This new mandate has resulted in fewer children in care – but the challenges vulnerable children face in their communities are more complex and require more support than ever.

“No case is ever just one thing. We deal with trauma, poverty, mental health challenges, addiction, violence, housing precarity and so on,” said Jennifer Cromey, a family service worker with FCSLLG. “Our worst fear is that we’ll miss something and a child will get hurt. That’s why we pick up our phones in the middle of the night and work weekends. But we can’t go on like this. Management’s choices have led to an exodus of staff. We’re working ourselves to exhaustion and children and families aren’t getting the support they need.”

The employer’s proposals would have pushed workers further into poverty, with wages well below the levels of inflation and mileage allowances, nearly ten cents below CRA guidelines. This puts workers in a position of subsidizing the work of FCSLLG. 

Workers will picket from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 71 Cornelia Street W, Smith Falls and 438 Laurier Blvd, Brockville on July 12-14.