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