‘You’re constantly drowning’ in cases and paperwork, says B.C. social worker

An illustrated look at a day in the life of a child-protection worker in British Columbia

  • Aug. 28, 2019 11:30 a.m.

By: Samantha Garvey, Francesca Fionda and Brielle Morgan with illustrations by Miriam Libicki

Social workers entrusted with protecting kids in B.C. are often on the front lines of some of society’s stickiest, most deeply entrenched problems: poverty, addiction and, for many Indigenous families whose children remain grossly overrepresented in the child-welfare system, intergenerational trauma wrought by decades of racist, colonial policies.

But a recent investigation by the collaborative journalism project Spotlight: Child Welfare found that many of these social workers are failing to meet basic requirements for kids’ care in B.C.

Data from the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s own performance audits shows that social workers aren’t assessing potentially urgent calls for protection quickly enough, completing safety assessments on time, nor sufficiently monitoring the well-being of kids placed in foster or adoptive homes.

Overall, the ministry gave itself a failing grade on nearly 40 per cent of its critical performance measures.

And while it may be tempting to blame social workers, research suggests we’re not properly resourcing these frontline workers.

In October 2015, then-Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released The Thin Front Line: MCFD staffing crunch leaves social workers over-burdened, B.C. children under-protected, an in-depth look into staffing issues in B.C.’s child-welfare system.

She found that even Ministry of Children and Family Development offices with a full complement of social workers couldn’t keep up with workloads, due to the increasing complexity of the work. “The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving,” the report found.

A subsequent report by Bernard Richard, Turpel-Lafond’s successor, found that social workers at B.C.’s Delegated Aboriginal Agencies (DAAs) — which serve Indigenous kids and families — are even more hard-pressed.

“Funding for each DAA in the province is negotiated on a one-off regional basis,” leading to inconsistency, Richard found. According to his report, funding constraints mean that DAA social workers are often paid less than their counterparts at ministry offices — compounding the issues of recruitment and retention.

“DAA child protection staff interviewed as part of this review reported carrying an average of 30 cases at a time,” Richard found, noting that’s 50 per cent more cases than the guidelines recommend. In 2014, the union representing B.C.’s frontline social workers found that burnout, stress and fatigue rates in the ministry are “significantly higher than the rest of B.C.’s public service.”

And according to the social workers who’ve shared their perspectives with the Spotlight: Child Welfare team — via Facebook messages, emails, phone calls and this survey — not much has changed.

We asked “Jamie” — a child protection social worker whose identity we agreed to protect as she fears losing her job for speaking out — what it’s like to work in B.C. today.

Here’s what she told us (as illustrated by Miriam Libicki):

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to place comic strip in the correct order.


This story was produced as part of Spotlight: Child Welfare — a collaborative journalism project that aims to deepen reporting on B.C.’s child-welfare system. It was originally published on The Discourse. Tell us what you think about the story.

Just Posted

Shelter access moving to the side of the building in Chilliwack on the heels of complaints

Renos to The Portal will see new bunk beds, indoor washrooms and a review of security and cleaniness

Drivers warn of slippery conditions on the Coquihalla

Snow is falling at the Summit of the Coquihalla

Rotarians digging in for new tree planting project

Trees will be a way to honour loved ones through Chilliwack

Chilliwack man pleads guilty in crash that killed pregnant woman

Frank Tessman charged under Motor Vehicle Act for accident that killed Kelowna school teacher

UFV bans cash after accepting 17 payments over $10k last year

Ban on cash payments follows report warning of potential money laundering through universities

Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement

Canucks hang on for 3-2 win over Rangers in New York

Vancouver scores three times in first period

More beef products recalled due to possible E. coli contamination

The food safety watchdog has been investigating possible E. coli 0157:H7

B.C. VIEWS: How to get the best deal on your ICBC car insurance

ICBC slowly being dragged into the 21st century

Man killed in Richmond had ‘no record of criminality,’ IHIT says

Stephen Chong, 58, was found dead in his business

Pot legalization has gone ‘well’, but ‘yellow flags’ on vaping: task force chair

Canada legalized cannabis for non-medical use on Oct. 17, 2018,

Most Read