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This Liberal Government has passed legislation, through Bill 210, that’s focused on the restructuring of child welfare services to promote best practices. Child welfare boards of directors, agencies and labour across the province have supported the implementation of the system set out in this legislation. The challenge has been that the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has not provided adequate funding to make best practices a reality.
Child welfare service and supports, including restructuring initiatives, resources, and staffing are under enormous strain due to underfunding.
Increased legislative requirements have, in fact, decreased the amount of direct contact with children and families due to administrative requirements. While direct contact time and accountability are both critical, appropriate staffing levels must be in place to support both. Child Protection Workers, across the province, report that unmanageable workloads are making a balanced approach impossible. It is only with adequate staffing that workloads become manageable so workers are in a position to truly support at risk children and families.
In addition to adequate staffing, prevention and support programs are vital to the protection and care of children and families. Programs at many agencies are in danger because of the Ministry’s requirement to submit balanced budgets. Because of lack of appropriate funding some agencies are forced to cut non-mandated, but much-needed, support services. In other agencies we have seen the mandated services eroded to meet budget demands.
These vital programs support the most vulnerable in our society. As Child Protection Workers on the front line we clearly see negative consequences for children, youth and families when these programs are cut or eroded, and when staffing levels are inadequate. Not surprisingly we have seen recruitment and retention challenges rise in a growing number of agencies across the province. This is a trend that must be addressed, as properly trained and consistent staffing is crucial to developing a trusting and supportive relationship with children, youth and families at risk.
The Ministry is asserting child welfare funding has increased while service volumes have fallen. They are failing to acknowledge the increased expectations that have been imposed on agencies and front line staff with the new policies and protocols. In addition, critical services offered to families and children such as access visitation programs, prevention programs, in home support workers, kinship care supports, services to children over 18 years of age and an overall increase in the cost of living has not been considered part of the core budget, leaving these programs and services at risk of being cut.
Looking at numbers does not give a full picture of the work being done to support families. New practices mean more time and resources are being spent with families when they first call into the agency. If not in crisis, a case is often not opened; rather they are referred, where they exist, to community resources. Since the case is not opened, worker time and resources are not reflected in the numbers. The children, who have a case opened, have more complex needs and require more intensive supports and worker time.
Agencies and workers are working to shift from a band-aid approach to a more long term healing approach where gains of children, youth and their families are sustained over time. This takes a strong infrastructure, which requires adequate funding. It is anticipated that further pressure on the child welfare system will be compounded in communities who are under escalating strain due to economic hardship.
Our understanding is that approximately 19 child welfare agencies have filed an application under Section 14 of the Child and Family Services Act in an effort to increase the amount of Ministry funding they receive. Without an increase in funding these agencies will be forced to look at program reduction, closures, and possible layoffs.
The province has legislated new criteria for service delivery. The province has an obligation to fund the sector so that agencies are not forced into understaffing, and cutting prevention and support programs.
We call on the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to adequately fund the child welfare sector so that the change agenda legislated by this government can be implemented including:
funding non-mandated services including prevention, support and treatment programs to ensure positive and sustainable supports for at risk children and families;
funding staffing levels in order that workloads are at a manageable level so Child Protection Workers are able to protect and support at risk children and their families;
funding transformation costs at a level where agencies are not forced to slow down or backtrack on transformation initiatives.
We call on our agency, members of the society and community partners to work with us and lobby the government to provide the required funding that will enable us to retain programs, staff and offer the best services possible.
Let’s do it together!
CUPE Local 4325 representing the front line workers at Family and Children Services of Guelph and Wellington County and The CUPE members throughout the province