Sunday, December 12, 2010

IN ALISON'S OWN WORDS / Part 396 / For Love and For Justice / Zabeth and Paul Bayne

You met Alison in yesterday's post. She is a mom and a fourth year student in child welfare and intending a career in child protection. In my blog post today I have Alison's permission to quote snatches from a submission she published on November 27th. She stumbled onto my blog while doing course research and she left a comment. You will appreciate the sincerity and thoughtfulness of this young woman as she entitles her piece The ethics of child protection? and after several paragraphs she wrote the following.

“I have also recently read everything I could find about MCFD since the 2006 Hughes Report, especially what was available about the changes Deputy Minister du Toit intends to make. She is scrapping Risk Assessment in favour of a new model, called "CAPP" which stands for Child and Family Support, Assessment, Planning and Practice, and which is mostly described in aspirational, visionary terms. Specific, measurable outcomes are not published, nor are details pertaining to what staff will actually be doing. Not very transparent, in my opinion, and thus, not very ethical.”

“Two further reports I have recently read are
Broken Promises (2008) and  Hands Tied (2009), both researched and published  by Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver. The first talks about how the system has consistently failed children and their families for generations in spite of legislative reform, internal reorganization and changing governments. The second talks about why BC child protection workers are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate: not enough staff, and too much political churn.”

“As well, I have been reading whatever I can find about MCFD in the public domain - media articles, blog posts, and comments on both. One specific blog I have been perusing is GPS, which is 'a personal weblog advocating for the Bayne family reunion and suggesting potential corrections to B.C. child welfare.' The comments on many of these blog posts have led me to conclude that British Columbians despise social workers.”

“I, however, would like to distinguish between social workers and child protection workers. Social Workers in BC are governed by the Social Workers Act, unless they are employed by a government or its agency, a school or a band (um, that's a LOT of exceptions!). Despite Judge Gove's recommendation that child protection social workers
actually be social workers (pretty radical, I know!), child protection workers are not required to have a degree in social work, nor are they required to be registered. They can hold a degree in Child and Youth Care (or they can hold a Masters in Clinical Psychology or an M.Ed. in Counselling).”

“Regardless, as Pivot (2008) points out, "apprehensions are generally the result of a parent’s struggle with poverty, addiction, mental health issues or family violence. The government’s lack of commitment to providing publicly funded services has severely undermined the ability of [MCFD] to take a preventative approach to child protection issues."

I believe social work education, which is
highly anti-oppressive, which requires continual deconstruction of the current and historical political ideologies which inform social policy, which insists that all knowledge is socially constructed to benefit a small minority of citizens, can effectively train workers to treat all clients with dignity and respect. It is a social worker's job to look for the structural, systemic causes of a parent's "bad behaviour" rather than blaming individual pathology. We consider the person in his/her environment. We stand with our clients, in solidarity. Our mandate is social change, social and economic justice for all citizens, not just for the "good" ones.”

“I just have to keep reminding myself of my mandate as a
social worker (as described, above), not as a child protection worker (whose mandate is contradictory, to keep children safe from parental maltreatment while maintaining the family home as the ideal place for children). I have to keep reminding myself that I chose this profession out of my stand for social justice for all, especially the most marginalized; that I chose social work out of an ethical responsibility I feel to children. Otherwise, all those commenters who write that child protection workers are evil, could lead me to despair, lead me to think child protection is a pointless career, characterized by burnout, not appreciated by anyone. And we can't have that!”

Thank you Alison for your willingness to share your aspirations, ideals and opinions for the past two days.


  1. A better approach might be for Alison to explain why her father was in the field for 20 years. Obviously with his guidance, Alison would stand a far better chance of avoiding pitfalls of the field.

    There are people who have been child protection workers for a long time and are immune from churn. Clearly they enjoy their job despite facing the same challenges that make other workers quit.

    Two such social workers that I dealt with have over 15 and 30 years of experience, one has children. I can say without reservation, these are THE most reprehensible, frightening, cowardly, anonymous individuals I have ever met. They are not violent or scary looking. I certainly don't hate them.

    For people like this to have such power and length of service, whose names are not even searchable on the internet, they are not members of the college of social workers, and do not appear in any court judgments, I am astounded. Even more remarkable is this appears to be more the rule rather than the exception. Child protection workers who look and present as harmless, but they give you the creepy-crawlies just being in their presence is something that is difficult to explain.

    My normally boisterous children shrink from them and are dead quiet when these people are in the same room. There is no other way to describe this reaction as my children being terrified.

    These workers are on-the-surface kind, soft-spoken individuals, yet children are not able enunciate exactly why they are scared of these people. My kids love school, their teachers, and being with friends at school. While in care my kids were moved to separate foster homes, and they hated the foster home, the new school and teachers they were briefly transferred to. This is the sort of life-long damage one inexperienced social worker can do.

    I would advise Alison to sit in on a few family cases, not identify herself as a social worker in training, and to witness for herself what a few families go through and how social workers and the system treats them. Reading a blog is not enough.

    As part of a practicum, ask to sit in on counselling sessions with a masters degree practitioner. Then listen in on the phone calls between the social worker and counsellor briefings afterwards.

    Unquestionably, the front line worker CAN make an enourmous difference; the question is, would they be allowed. A good worker, based on all available evidence WOULD grant a supervision-free Christmas, or would approve a non-professional supervisor. The question is, would they be allowed?

    Alison needs to ask more questions. Why, for example are services available AFTER a removal, but not BEFORE? Ask why, for example, would a 6-12 month counselling prescription be stretched out over that length of time, incurring massive foster care expenditure and social worker babysitting and multiple court attendances, when the 1-2 hour weekly meetings could be compressed and fit into a month-long affair?

    The answer I derive is that funding is ONLY available with a removal, even though the costs of the services component is but a fraction of foster care costs and all-tolled removal costs.

    Can SOMEONE tell me that services such as "Project Parent" are available to parents at no cost at a point BEFORE protection workers decide to remove, when it is known in advance such service have an 80% success rate in addressing "concerns?"

    This sould be a very easy question for Alison to have answered, because her father is a social worker.

  2. CAPP is not replacing risk assessment. CAPP is a restructuring of resources and collaboration within MCFD and extending to community resources.

    As you can see CAPP is not yet implemented.

  3. Knowing a child protection worker who seems to ideally embody the quality of compassion, and being convinced that the majority of workers entering this field are motivated by idealism, I can sympathize with Alison's point of view and defensiveness in the face of criticism of her profession.

    However, I do have a problem with this comment of hers: "I believe social work education, which is highly anti-oppressive, which requires continual deconstruction of the current and historical political ideologies which inform social policy, which insists that all knowledge is socially constructed to benefit a small minority of citizens, can effectively train workers to treat all clients with dignity and respect. It is a social worker's job to look for the structural, systemic causes of a parent's 'bad behaviour' rather than blaming individual pathology. We consider the person in his/her environment. We stand with our clients, in solidarity. Our mandate is social change . . ." Knowing the very similar philosophy that is motivating proposed changes to teacher education, I think I recognize this as a restatement of current philosophy in the training for those seeking to enter these social professions.
    To teach future social workers and future teachers that the essence of their professions is political activism seems dangerous to me. The nature of the political activism seems especially dangerous when it removes individual responsibility in seeking to trace all social evils to a political system. And the philosophical view that all knowledge is socially constructed for the benefit of a few smacks of a denial of the validity of objective truth (I fully realize without Alison meaning such denial.)

  4. A couple of lines were extracted from the following comment by
    Anonymous who said to another Anonymous of December 12, 2010 at 8:05 AM:

    “To shed more light on some questions you posted, many SW do appear harmless, on-the-surface kind and soft-spoken, especially when they are in court facing judges. They are skillful using terms like best interests of children, safety of children is of paramount importance, ... etc. to justify their actions. Wolf in sheep skin serves this well.

    Furthermore, the biggest success of their deception is to convince people that the enemy does not exist, or as a second best option, divert them to seek the wrong solution. In this blog, we see many still naively believe that government should have the power to remove children as prescribed by CFCSA and their barbaric modus operandi is serving society well, acceptable and salvageable. Who in their right mind would allow their government to get their children at will? This view is not only stupid but also irresponsible to the best interests of children in all future generations.

    Speaking of funding, most people are misled to believe that insufficient funding is the cause of all the problems in MCFD. Yesterday, we saw that their budget goes up every year. MCFD problems are not due to insufficient funding but too much money placed in the wrong hands, an absurd law that grants absolute power and the counterproductive modus operandi. "Child protection" is just one example, but the most harmful one in my view, that special interests prey on tax dollars. That's why Canadians pay so much taxes and it keeps going up.

    Before she graduates, Alison is paying attention to MCFD's budget and believes that funding on front line workers has been cut since the BC Liberal took power. This suggests that CP workers and those who plan to take this "career" have a concern on tax dollars allocated to MCFD, which is their bread and butter. Don't tell me that this CP crap is not job security and financially driven. If there is no money, I guarantee that MCFD's lawyers will be the first to walk, followed by self-serving, self-righteous SW and the "love abundant" foster parents.”

  5. I want to respond to the anon two or three days ago, who was expressing concerns about the director's latest offensive against the Baynes by threatening their expected child. The writer seemed well informed, not only about the Bayne case but also in the various ways in which the CF&CSA can be used as a weapon. Anon I appreciate the heads up on section 59 and it caued me to review it. It is in with some sections which only really apply when a case is already before the oourt. The wording is not precise, but I think it would be very difficult to use it against the Baynes.
    However I think that your other points are very well taken. By inviting the Baynes to accept "help" and to enter discussions about what services they could use, they may be inviting them to enter a trap. The director could then turn around and say "oh, so you admit that you cannot cope without help and we construe that to be agreeing that your child will be at risk unless you get that help. We want you to agree to filing a consent to supervision order." Come and live in the surreal world inhabited by the senior bureaucrats. George Orwell's 1984 is alive and well in 2010. In doublespeak "The Baynes are double plus ungood." You are right if they enter that web, they will never escape enmeshment.
    At this point I must stop to apologise to Alison. He we are discussing involvement with the ministry as if we were at war with them. Unfortunately we are. They started the aggression and they relied on their superior fire power to gain a quick victory. Just like the Americans in Afghanistan People are entitled to fight back when attacked. How dismal to think that child welfare services have degenerated into a totally adverarial process. How destructive, costly and unnecessary.
    The main weapons the ministry use are the law and money. Not to mention their side-arms, spin,lies, stonewalling, secrecy and disinformation. Ron's weapons are the pen and the paintbrush and an army of volunteers who voice their concerns on this blog. ( continued)

  6. continuation.
    Will a decent human being like Alison survive in this mess? I do not know. All I can tell you is what I found. When I started I had an enormous caseload a huge territory and a lousy supervisor. It was a trial by ordeal, which I thought must be normal. I later found out that most people only lasted a few months. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? When I became the district supervisor after 18 months, I was determined that none of my staff would endure what I did and I made sure that everyone had a clear idea of what work they had to do and they never had to do work for which I had not prepared them Nearly all the people that started work with me stayed for years.
    When I first started, the system on the whole was incompetent, benign and laissez-faire. Each district ran its own show. As time went on we got many more staff members and the system became incompetent,aggressive and interfering. Fortunately I had lots of experience by this time and I could dodge most of the bullets. It did become more and more difficult before I retired. One of the lessons I learned was never involve managers unless unavoidable They invariably screwed up. Write up your files thoroughly so that you can show accountability, but do not tell anyone anything you do not have to. When I became a registered social worker, I was always ready to brandish my code of ethics in the face of any manager who pushed me out of my moral comfort zone. It worked. No Alison it was not easy. Most of my social work colleagues were decent people, but they were not warriors and they did not pick fights on behalf of their clients. One thing I should add, I did not pick any fights with my first supervisor until I got my permanent appointment confirmed. I needed the job. I remember well the first time. She wanted me to treat a needy family punitively by exercising deterrant relief. I thought the breadwinner was s decent man and I refused to do as she wanted, but I still did it with a little guile. I said that I was not comfortable with what she wanted done, but I would be very happy to transfer the file to her. She thought about it for a day or two and then thanked me fo reminding her what social work was all about.

  7. Why is it that almost every discipline at university for the last 20 years or so has been telling students that they should be engaging in political activism. It doesn't matter whether it's art history or social work, it seems that it's all about indoctrinating students with a certain ideology (which of course pretends not to be an ideology).

  8. Alison, have you considered a career in law, helping childen and families who have been victims of the MCFD? You might find the work more gratifying.

  9. Alison: thank you for engaging with the readers and writers on this blog! Your contributions have made this an even more fascinating and educational blog.

    I am really curious to know what your fellow students think about this whole debate. Are any of them aware of the criticisms that are being levied against MCFD; if so, what is their position with respect to the allegations of unethical behavior on the part of certain MCFD staff?

  10. I have seen that change does come from people who are in the profession and are good people.

  11. Thanks, everyone, for the great comments on this and the previous post. I couldn't say that I fully disagree with any of the comments. I would like to address the questions asked of me, but I will have to wait until I complete my final exams.

    One thing I would like to note is that Ray Ferris' comments and advocacy stories exemplify how a good social worker should act, and I've yet to read anything he's written that contradicts what my profs have taught, either in generalist courses or in those specific to child welfare. Thank you for your contribution, Ray.


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