The Thin Front Line

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MCFD staffing crunch leaves social workers over-burdened, BC Children under-protected


Britisch Columbia's Representative for Children and Youth initiated a review of staffing levels and the ability of front-line workers to respond in a timely way when concerns about child safety are reported to the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). This review included an analysis of data provided by MCFD, an examination of budgeting and staffing practices in the ministry, an audit of files from four teams in three MCFD offices to determine if they were able to meet their statutory obligations under the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCS Act), interviews with social workers and team leaders in 16 B.C. communities and a review of available literature in this subject area. The results of the review are alarming. The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving. While the demands and complexities of child protection work have increased, there are fewer front-line workers in B.C. now than in 2002. New child protection standards and a new computer system were introduced in 2012, which increased both the complexity of work and the demands for accountability placed on child protection workers. Since that time, there have been upgrades to the computer system, as well as numerous policy and practice changes, all of which impact the daily lives of social workers. 

Social workers report that meeting ministry practice standards – standards mandated to protect vulnerable children and youth – is frequently impossible, and that not meeting mandated timelines has become routine due to heavy workloads. This is the case despite child protection standards being no more onerous in B.C. than in other jurisdictions across North America. The situation in a number of MCFD offices across the province is perilous. Workers clearly told the Representative’s staff that heavy workloads, absent colleagues and increasingly demanding performance expectations are leading to a consistent failure to meet MCFD’s own child protection standards. Because of these conditions, social workers must negotiate the level of services they can provide to vulnerable children.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
BC Representative for Children and Youth

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