‘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 12:30 p.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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jumbo Valley to be protected, ending decades-long dispute over proposed ski resort

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

Wrangle the Chute returns to Kicking Horse

Wrangle the Chute will be returning to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort from… Continue reading

Kicking Horse Update Friday January 17

Kicking Horse reports 10 cm of snow in the last 24 hours,with… Continue reading

Highway Update Friday January 17

On Highway 1, watch for slippery sections between Three Valley Avalanche Gate… Continue reading

Golden nominated for Kraft Hockeyville 2020

Nominations close on Feb. 9.

VIDEO: Cold snap brings ideal conditions for Okanagan icewine

Take an inside look at how icewine is made

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Most Read