The following is an open letter written by a child protection worker in Ontario; it details her concerns over the use of temporary replacement workers during the lockout at Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society (CAS).

I am a child protection worker in Durham Region, Ontario. I walked the picket line with CAS workers locked out by Nipissing and Parry Sound children’s aid because I do the same work, I belong to the same union, and I support what they’re fighting for. I also understand what’s at stake for the families these workers serve.

That’s why I believe one of the biggest concerns of this lockout is the use of temporary replacement workers.

Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS has replaced skilled, authorized and dedicated frontline workers with temporary replacements. This doesn’t just hurt the workers who’ve been locked out and potentially prolong the labour dispute, but it is in fact potentially dangerous for the vulnerable children and youth who are in the care of the region’s children’s aid.

Temporary replacement workers are now conducting the type of visits that my colleagues at the society would normally carry out. In some cases, these replacement workers perform “checks” on children from hundreds of kilometers away in places like Ottawa and Sudbury.

By contrast, child welfare workers work hard to build ongoing relationships of trust with the children, youth and families they serve. We have unique insight into the lives and living conditions of the people we work with, and that understanding is always hard-won.

We visit the children and youth in our care regularly and we document those visits rigorously. But case note and documentation simply can’t tell the entire story.

We recognize what the normal state of a home is. We know what a particular child’s well being looks like and we look for changes in her or his health, weight and temperament. We notice whether there was a lock on a bedroom door on our last visit or if it’s something new, and we have been given very strict standards by the Ministry that we must adhere to.

How can temporary replacement workers possibly have the points of reference that the “real” child welfare workers have about what’s normal for “our” families, children and youth? They don’t know whether a child looks thinner or more tired than usual or whether the child’s home environment has changed.

From the point of view of a frontline worker, this lack of continuity of care and service puts children and families at an increased risk. It’s just one of the reasons that using replacement workers is such a bad idea and one of the reasons that Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS must end the lockout. Bargaining a fair collective agreement is the only way to ensure that services continue for the community in the way that we are mandated to carry them out.

Sincerely,

Heather Murray
A member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a child protection worker with Durham Children’s Aid Society