Friday, October 21, 2011


By Dr. Ron Unruh

What I am coming to believe is that many social workers do not know what is expected of them as they perform their work. Most of them have entered their careers with honourable intentions to help people, seniors, adults, children and families. Those social workers who choose to go into child protection are motivated to enable families and to protect children.

When case after case surfaces wherein the action of the social worker is challenged by parents and it becomes clear that such action is contestable because it flies in the face of reasonable, objective, social work practice, the guidance system has malfunctioned.

The Child, Family and Community Services Act has provided the guidance. It contains the rationale, justification for and procedures mandated for delivery of government social services to the province’s citizens. Some people argue the Act itself should be jettisoned or overhauled. I trust the experienced opinion of a few people whom I know who think this way. Nonetheless that is our guidance. The guidance system is operated by the staff that is required to make delivery of services according to the Act. Where, within this system is the malfunction occurring? It’s anyone’s guess at the moment. No one has done a suitable assessment recently. It’s been more than a decade since the last inquiry which resulted in scores of recommendations to improve the guidance system and delivery of social services. It has taken years to implement the recommendations and meanwhile we continue to have serious performance issues in the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

So it is the human element that is the cause for periodic malfunctions experienced by the guidance system that is used for day to day social work. And I am unconvinced that the front line case worker is the one to whom a finger should be predictably pointed. The Act is being interpreted by those who occupy positions up the chain, whether Team Leaders or eventually Directors. Social Workers have some latitude for personal decision making but they also receive orders. Directors apply their title to the various applications associated with child protection. They know case details, give approval to courses of action, and even issue instructions. The onus falls to the Directors to insure clean cases, no foul-ups, no miscues, no lapses of attention, no missed signs, and no dumb choices. To affect a stellar performance rating, the interpretation of the ACT is critical and if the interpretation is motivated by expediency and convenience, then injustices occur.

Taking Ayn Van Dyk from her father Derek Hoare was a Team decision. Social workers did not perpetrate that without approval. What is missing at the Team level? They knew that the removal would commit this child to months of foster or institutional care. They knew that this action would require court appearances, orders, court time, legal counsel, and the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars. What is missing among Team members that they could not arrive at a plan of action that incorporated a thorough investigation of the child’s home situation, health and care; a gracious, collaborative relationship with Derek that might result in aid provided to him rather than a daughter taken from him? The Team has stepped away from the guidance and resorted to winging it. The system is flawed by humans who err in judgement and then defence kicks in and self-justification, and handy 'confidentiality' silence, and so we go. One family’s agony laid upon another family's horror until we have a mountain of irregularities created by the MCFD. Perhaps that is why social workers with the excellence tags leave after about two years with the MCFD. They can’t take it any more. Neither can we.

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