Thursday, February 2, 2012


Written by my respected friend, Ray Ferris, author of the book “The Art of Child Protection.”

What on earth has happened over the last thirty years to transform the child welfare system from being imperfect but manageable and reasonably fair, to being totally broken and incapable of guarding the best interests of children.

Unless we find ways of fixing the system, there is no use in knowing the law and how it is supposed to work. What we need to do is to define what is broken and why and then to persuade the responsible people to fix it.

There are a number of components causing the breakdown and they cannot be fixed by throwing money at them. In fact throwing more money at them might well make it worse.

Components that Cause the Breakdown of Child Welfare.
1. The erosion of social work skills and the lack of basic social work skills and ethical requirements in protection employees.

2. The resultant handing over of social work functions to other professions. Because a great deal of the work is governed by statute, the social workers have increasingly handed over their functions to lawyers. They no longer know, or care to know what the law requires apart from some basic routines, like making presentation reports. When they hand over so much control to lawyers, two things happen.

First the organizational culture becomes adversarial and non-conciliatory. Why? Because this is the longstanding culture of the legal profession and the courts. This is the best way for lawyers to generate revenue.

Another way is to stack a hearing with as many witnesses as possible and quibble every point, until cases last for years. Judges are so steeped in this culture that they are not even aware of what they are doing. They can no longer apply the law as it is written, no matter how much they would like to. They begin to see themselves as victims, constantly faced with the choice of two evils. Keep kids in lengthy limbo, or risk returning them to an unsafe home.

The ministry has unlimited funds and legal clout and few parents can muster the funds for a proper defence. Cases are before court for years, leaving children committed to care for long periods without due process. This leaves the regional directors with total control. If a day of reckoning comes, they can pull out of the case with no consequence.

3. Another big contributor to systemic dysfunction is the Child, Family and Community Services Act. It is so long and complicated that few lawyers and judges know it thoroughly and most social workers don't even pretend to learn it. As one senior supervisor told me recently, when I pointed out his duty under the law, "We don't follow the law, we follow policy." When this act was brought in, it was so complicated that 72 senior protection staff were taken out of direct service for quite a long time, just so that they could learn how to use it. The courts virtually ground to a standstill and they have never recovered.

4. Because social workers are no longer trained in basic protection skills, they have become bureaucratic functionaries, whose job is to broker all their work to other agents. They no longer know how to do a parental capacity assessment. They do not even know that the components of a parental capacity assessment and a risk assessment are basically the same thing and need identical skills to complete. They farm out assessments to psychologists and community service agencies. They do not know when it is appropriate to supervise visitation and when it is not. They do not know how to work constructively with foster homes and how to use them as resources to natural parents and how they can help in assessments.

5. The solutions are simple and logical and follow from understanding the causes of the problems. The biggest hurdle is to get the members of the legislative assembly and the top echelons of the ministry to admit that the system is broke. They need to understand that systemic fixes will not work and throwing money at the problems is not the answer. They need to provide leadership in defusing the adversarial culture. They need to guarantee a programme of core training skills for social workers, so that they can work with confidence and fairness. They need to emphasize ethical practice from top to bottom of the organization. They need to critically examine the over use of lawyers, psychologists and contracted workers.

Until there are some fundamental changes, children like the Bayne kids and Derek's children do not stand a chance.


  1. I know when I was a kid back in the 70's I NEVER even thought of the possibility of being taken away from my family and my home by Child Protection but now I live in constant fear of it happening to my own kids. Times have really changed. Back then they actually did help abused kids but now they seize them from anybody for any stupid little reason and destroy innocent families.I fear even more how much worse it will likely be for my grandchildren later,too.

  2. If a day of reckoning comes, they can pull out of the case with no consequence.

    This may be the worst part of the problem. They seem to have unlimited power, but no transparency. Since there are no consequences to their own wrongdoing then they can do no wrong in their eyes. What's it to them if a family is torn apart for years without real justification. Their word is accepted as evidence and the court system doesn't even allow a parent more than a single word yes or no for a year or more into the process. There is no safety net for catching wrongful removals, vindictive case workers, or those with a secret agenda, such as teaching a defiant parent a lesson. A single social worker's written observations, no matter how twisted or slanted they might be is taken by judges as the equivelant to a bloody knife at a murder scene covered in finger prints. But no one in the system has to answer to anyone else. They hide behind their crimes under the false pretenses of both confidentiality and the "best interest of the child". Neither of which do they really give a rats ass about. It is all about self-perpetuating and justifying the monies they receive and their own broken bureaucracy. It's sick and it's criminal.

  3. Anonymous has sent this comment... it didn't publish automatically .. apologies
    "Perhaps the first two step in the right direction would be mandatory registration of all MCFD social workers with the BC College of Social Workers and simplification of the Child, Family and Community Services Act."

    1. Thank you! Registration is so important, and unfortunately something that is discouraged within the MCFD 'culture' because many of the individuals there are not trained formerly in social work and thus not accountable by either the BCCSW regulations or the BC social workers act. Indeed, I have noticed the trend of BSW grads opting out of child protection work and into more lucrative positions within healthcare or administration. There is an albeit small group of individuals who are committed to applying the anti-oppressive tenets of social work into their work as child protection workers.

      The article that preceded this is one of the best critiques of our fractured child welfare system because unlike others I have read it identifies how the MCFD is in lock-step with a legal construct, whilst trying to negotiate the very sinuous terrain of working with parents of various ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This, for all intents and purposes is a moral construct. All this coalesces to create the current 'culture' of the MCFD wherein everyone has a hidden agenda.

      What is lost here is that in the midst of this quagmire are many innocent children who are suffering unnecessarily. I do not think registration is the [emphasis added] answer, but I do think it is a good first step in creating a paradigm where social workers are both held accountable by a third party and would have the ability to seek professional and clinical guidance from an outside body.

  4. I've got a suspicion that one of possible causes of the degeneration of the system is the drive of senior brass of social workers towards increasing their clout and self-importance. They have moved from the street-level assistance to those who needed help to the status of a major enforcement agency with powers exceeding those of police, prosecutors and judges (at least at the provincial courts level) put together without any additional training, transparency and public scrutiny. This transformation is really disturbing.


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