Ray Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD and Ray has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' Ray has been my guest writer for this five-part series of GPS posts. Here is the final installment. Together these are the substance of a letter already sent to specific officers of the government and offered publicly now using the Bayne Case to expose flaws and to propose remedies in the child protection system.
OVERUSE OF LAWYERS AND PSYCHOLOGISTS AND THE NEED FOR EXCELLENT CORE TRAINING – PART 5
Over-use of lawyers and psychologists.
There is a body of knowledge and skills in the work of child protection which is definable and teachable. When staff are not properly trained, they do not have the skills to practice confidently. As basic staff training has always been inadequate, we have for several years seen an increasing trend for work to be contracted out to people who are perceived to have greater expertise. As in the Bayne case contracting out a parental capacity assessment to a psychologist is a good example. Social workers do not understand that a degree in psychology does not qualify one to do parental capacity assessments, any more than does a degree in social work. Psychologists are licensed because they are the only ones who can do psychometric and related testing. Only they own the materials and the expertise. Apart from this they have no special skills without taking extra training.
For instance the college of psychologists and the association have guidelines for doing custody and access reports. They have no such guidelines for parental capacity assessments or for doing risk assessments. Authoritative sources describe the components of parental capacity assessment and are clear on special training required. The assessment on the Baynes will take about four months and will cost about $12,000. If social work staff were to be trained this would not be necessary. For instance I recently completed a parental capacity assessment in under two weeks and did it free. It is simple in concept. A parental capacity assessment is similar to any other family study. It should be based on provable facts about the life skills and accomplishments of the parents, supported by reference sources, much the same as an adoption or foster home study. There will also be elimination of the more common risk factors found in protection cases. If there is no evidence of risk factors, there is also no need for protection. Social workers need to have clear concepts of what psychologists and also psychiatrists can and cannot do. Obviously the psychologists will not turn down revenue if it is offered and it is not in their interests to point out that the social workers could be doing the work themselves.
Social workers have become completely dependent on lawyers for anything to do with court. One of the problems is that staff are not trained how to recognize good evidence. They do not differentiate between fact, opinion and hearsay. They do no appear to be given guidance in this respect by their lawyers. The CFCSA has a clause allowing a certain amount of hearsay evidence if the judge considers it to be reliable. I doubt that the members of the legislature intended hearsay to supplant all other evidence, but this is what appears to be happening. Thirty years ago the counsel and the courts would not have dreamed of allowing a lot of the type of stuff which goes on nowadays. The Bayne case had a number of days where not one piece of factual evidence was presented. Once the social workers get into an adversarial position they have lawyers attending meetings and mediation sessions. As soon as the client sees that a lawyer will be present, there is a tendency to feel threatened and also to bring a lawyer. It is hard to assess whether the adversarial culture in the ministry has developed because of the frequent use of lawyers, or whether the lawyers are simply reinforcing what already existed. Because lawyers generate more money by being adversarial, this is probably a likely cause. Interesting that in the Bayne case, the lawyer advised returning the children and then made a pot of money by prosecuting the case. Especially dragging out the closing summary in the most egregious fashion.
Many of the problems could be reduced, or eliminated if there were a well-defined core training programme guaranteed for each employee. This would be expensive, but the alternative is a great deal more costly. I can only sketch the basic knowledge and skills required here. I wrote a full length book on the subject, which gives more detail. Some of the skills will be generic and some will be special to the work. Judge Gove was clear in that social work schools do not claim to teach students child protection work, so there is no use expecting that hiring people with social work degrees will provide the skills. These skills can only be taught by in-service training and mentoring. Neither the college of social work, nor the BC Association of social work has any definable standards for child protection, as I recently confirmed.
Here are some of the basic skills necessary. Interview and communication skills. Assessment skills. Knowing how to do fact based assessments, such as risk assessments and parental capacity assessments. Knowledge of childhood development. Skills in interviewing and assessing people with addiction problems. Knowledge of treatment programmes and referral processes. A very clear training in obtaining and evaluating evidence. Knowing how to differentiate fact from opinion and how to evaluate opinion. Writing and recording skills. Knowing how to differentiate between different chronic multi-problem families and to be able to sort out those with chronic neglect problems from others. Knowing the impact of chronic neglect. Learning about the impact of mental deficiencies and mental illness. Understanding the difference between behaviour management and behaviour change and what is appropriate. Understanding the importance of integrity and ethics in all aspects of the work and a willingness to be accountable at all times.
In conclusion, social workers need to own the knowledge and skills of child protection and they need to know why they own them. They can then rely more confidently on their own resources. If we were to total up the annual budget spent on psychologists and lawyers, would it not be much more cost effective to train staff more thoroughly? Ah yes, but who is to do the training?
Thanks to Ray Ferris for sharing this letter with me and the rest of us.