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CAS groups call for action now on worker safety recommendations

A coalition of groups representing managers and employees of Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) across Ontario is calling for the speedy implementation of recommendations from a recent safety survey that reveals troubling issues with workers encountering physically and emotionally unsafe circumstances on a regular basis.


Mary Ballantyne, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) said: “We recognize the importance of moving swiftly to improve both worker safety policies and the consistency of their application. Child welfare workers, like other first responders in the community, provide essential and often very difficult services. They deserve to have close attention paid to their working conditions given their crucial role in protecting vulnerable children.”


Over the course of their careers, 27 per cent of CAS workers reported experiencing assault, 45 per cent reported a threat to themselves or their families, 68 per cent reported verbal or written abuse against themselves or their families, and 49 per cent reported experiencing secondary trauma because of violence affecting a co-worker or child.  In all, more than 75 per cent of CAS workers report experiencing at least one aspect of violence.  Typically, in any given year up to 25 per cent of workers report concerns about their safety.  


Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents about 3,000 CAS workers in the province states: “These numbers confirm the alarm bells our members have been sounding loudly for years. This level of workplace violence would never be tolerated in any other sector of society. Thousands of workers are at risk and Queen’s Park needs to act on this now.”


The report, which is the first of its kind, was conducted by an outside consulting agency under the direction of a joint labour-management committee convened by the OACAS. It highlights the issues that have affected the ability of child care professionals to do their work.


Conducted this past February, the comprehensive child welfare worker safety survey revealed several disturbing trends faced by CAS workers. They include:


•Most aggression experienced by workers typically occurs inside a client’s home;

•Current CAS reporting systems are inconsistent in recording all incidents of violence, threats or verbal abuse experienced by employees;

•About one-third of violent acts take place when a caseworker is working alone;

•Approximately 12 per cent of workers who experienced violence reported that as a result they were more hesitant in performing their child protection duties;

•Findings revealed differences between how employees perceive violence on the job, and how organizational managers view their handling of the issue.


CUPE Ontario President, Fred Hahn, whose union represents more than 3,000 CAS workers, stressed the urgency of the situation and the need for rapid action. Said Hahn: “Ensuring the safety of families in crisis and children at risk is the reason CAS workers are in this field. But it’s impossible to accomplish this already challenging task when they themselves are at risk. That’s why the provincial government must act forcefully and immediately to prevent violence against CAS workers, who must be allowed to do their jobs without putting themselves at risk of violence.”


The report has 46 recommendations to improve safety in child-protection work. System-wide recommendations include: obtaining commitments to prioritize safety in client protection work; developing guidelines for working alone, and scheduling regular meetings with local law enforcement agencies to discuss safety risks in child protection.


To read the full report, please visit CAS Workers at Risk.

Click here for the official media release.


For more information:

Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies

Caroline Newton – Director of Communications

(416) 987-9648                   
[email protected]



Andrew Hunter

Social Services Coordinator                     

(519) 496-5314                   
[email protected]

Mary Unan

Communications Representative                  

(905) 739-3999                   
[email protected]



Terri Aversa                                                                                        

(416) 443-8888    
[email protected]

Jane Kaija

(705) 677-8144                  

CAS Workers at Risk: A Current Assessment of Worker Safety, Client Violence and Child Protection in Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies – A System under Pressure

CAS Workers at risk is a report that comes out of a union-employer-government working group negotiated during the Provincial Discussion Table in 2011.

It provides independent confirmation of what CUPE and child protection workers have been saying for years: that CAS workers are subject to high rates of on-the-job violence.

The study is based on over 5,800 surveys by CAS workers and 34 surveys from CAS agencies. It provides irrefutable evidence of the fact that child protection workers experience very high levels of violence, exceeded only by police, probation officers and workers in some health sub-sectors.

The report also looks at work-related violence suffered by all CAS workers, including physical assault, attempted assault, threats, and verbal and written abuse. The study also looked at secondary or “witness” trauma, where a worker may be harmed by an incident which does not directly affect them.

Also included are 46 recommandations to help protect CAS workers from violence on the job.

CUPE and OPSEU will work in conjunction with OACAS to ensure to ensure the recommendations in the report are implemented. CUPE Research has also produced a PowerPoint presentation for CAS workers who would like to hold meetings with fellow CUPE members and briefings with employers or elected officials. Please contact Aubrey Gonsalves ([email protected]) of the CUPE Ontario’s CAS Workers Coordinating Committee for more information.

CAS Workers at Risk

Read the report’s highlights here

Read the full report here

Read the a summary of best practices here

A brief history of the Worker Safety Subcommittee

For several years, CUPE and OPSEU have been advocating that worker safety is a critical issue for workers in the sector, requiring systemic review and solutions.

In 2011, a commitment was negotiatied under the Provincial Discussion Table Consensus Agreement. CUPE, along with other unions in the sector*, and the Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario Employers Group established a Worker Safety Subcommittee.

This joint union-employer subcommittee was established to advise and report on systemic matters relating to the occupational health and safety of child welfare sector workers in Ontario. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) is also a participant.

Funding from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has supported the hiring of a consultant to conduct research on sector-specific tools and training to support workers in the sector.

CUPE’s representatives on the subcommittee include Cathy Matthe/Nancy Simone (CAS representatives on the Social Service Workers Coordinating Committee) and Andréane Chénier, CUPE Health and Safety Specialist.

The work of the subcommittee is moving quickly. You can keep up-to-date on all of the activities of the committee through this website.

It is important that every worker in the sector fill out the worker safety survey to give input about safety at work.

* CUPE, OPSEU, UNIFOR, Simcoe Employee Association

Worker Safety Subcommittee’s Activity

Date Activity Link
February 11, 2014 Joint letter from CUPE, OPSEU, and Simcoe Employee Association supporting survey launch on Feb 6, 2014 Download the statement
January 17, 2014 Project Backgrounder – Survey to be launched soon! Download the January backgrounder document
December 19, 2013 Project Backgrounder – About Phase 1 – the survey Download the December backgrounder document
December 2, 2013 Subcommittee Update  Download the Subcommittee Update
October, 2013 Provincial Safety Subcommittee Terms of Reference  Download the Terms of Reference
December, 2011 PDT Agreement  Download the PDF Agreement