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BC Greens Call for More Accountability for Child Welfare Services

Following The Tyee’s reporting, Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen pressed the premier about increased oversight of MCFD workers.

Katie Hyslop 23 Nov 2023The Tyee

Katie Hyslop writes about education and youth issues for The Tyee.

BC Green Party MLAs Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen spent question period this week asking government about the delivery and oversight of child welfare services, including the lack of a transparent disciplinary process for frontline child welfare workers.

Most B.C. social workers are registered with the BC College of Social Workers, which, among other duties, investigates and disciplines social workers who commit infractions. Any disciplinary measures taken against registered social workers are posted publicly on the college’s website.

However, social workers employed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which has its own internal disciplinary process, are exempt from registering with the college, as The Tyee reported earlier this month.

This leaves parents who want to file a complaint about treatment by a ministry worker with no choice but to complain to the ministry itself. Unlike the college, the MCFD does not publicly disclose its disciplinary decisions.

During question period on Monday, Furstenau asked Premier David Eby about mandatory college registration, noting ministry employees have the power to enter homes and remove children from their families.

“Will he commit to immediately subjecting MCFD social workers to regulation under the College of Social Workers to ensure proper oversight and accountability?” she asked, adding the situation was “eroding public trust” in the ministry.

Although Furstenau says Eby was in the legislature that day, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon responded to the question.

“We want to make sure that every child has access to the services and supports they need to live a full and healthy life. I appreciate the member's question. I'll have to take it on notice,” Kahlon said.

That response is par for the course from this government, Furstenau told The Tyee, adding she asked then-MCFD minister Katrine Conroy a similar question in 2019.

“It’s the same as it ever was,” Furstenau said.

“This is an area that has needed to be transformed. And we’ve heard from First Nations’ leadership over and over again that they have sovereignty over their children, and yet we see in so many ways this ministry clinging on to a very colonial mindset when it comes to child welfare.”

Not every frontline child welfare worker would be eligible to register with the college, however, as not all workers have a social work education, which is mandatory for registration with the college.

The MCFD has long hired workers with child and youth care, education and counselling psychology or arts and counselling psychology degrees, in addition to hiring those with social work backgrounds. The ministry no longer uses “social worker” in job titles. Instead, frontline staff have titles like “child protection worker.”

In 2019, the ministry further expanded acceptable credentials to include anthropology, criminology, education, Indigenous studies, sociology and theology degrees.

In the late 1990s, the MCFD paid for 90 child welfare workers to obtain a social work bachelor’s degree. But the program, which saw the ministry funding workers’ travel and child-care costs, as well as tuition, was cancelled because of cost.

Furstenau said she would support its return.

“Expecting them to do the kind of work that they are doing, that has the most devastating potential for any family — to have their child or children removed from them — why would we not have the highest expectations of professional training and professionalism from those people?” she said.

The MCFD has long been plagued by negative reports and investigations into the injuries and deaths of children in care.

Recent tragedies include the death of a First Nations boy, who was abused, along with his sibling, by his foster parents, and the failure of MCFD staff to act on a father’s self-reported sexual assault of his own children for over a year.

“We continue to have a government that accepts that the people on the frontlines of this ministry, with the power to remove children from their parents, are not professionally trained in their jobs,” Furstenau said.

“There needs to be a recognition from this government of what they used to say when they were in opposition. The kind of criticisms they had of MCFD when they were in opposition, they’ve now become silent.”

On Tuesday, Olsen urged government to spend the $135,000 annually budgeted for each child in care on families at risk of child apprehensions due to poverty. The Greens formally called for this change in a press release issued today.

In an email sent to The Tyee, an MCFD spokesperson said the $135,000 figure is “a material assumption” for budgeting purposes, not what foster parents personally receive to care for kids.

“Nor does it represent the real investments made by the ministry in children and families, especially as the ministry increasingly invests in out-of-care placements and keeping children connected to their family, community and culture,” the email reads.

“Even if we only consider the in-care system, the annual costs vary greatly depending on the amount of support and services they require.” *

In an emailed statement to The Tyee, a ministry spokesperson said the ministry “recognize[s] the importance of ensuring high-quality social work practice and the need for strong oversight measures for all staff who interact with children, youth and families.”

They added the ministry expects a “What We Heard” report, based on public engagement sessions on the oversight of social workers, to be released later this year.

* Story updated on Nov. 23 at 2:23 p.m. to include comment from the MCFD received after deadline.  [Tyee]

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