Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Written by Ray Ferris April 29th 2012.

Part One of Four

These notes are aimed at helping people who have recently become involved with the Ministry of Child and family services directly or through others. The information is written in the light of a number of cases coming to me and to other child protection helpers. I have borne in mind many of the most common questions that have been asked me. In writing this, I warn readers that the child protection scene is ugly, not only in British Columbia, but throughout Canada and the whole English speaking world. Unfortunately, I have good grounds for this statement, which is based on contact with numerous cases and with consistent reporting on a number of child protection blogs. I am very blunt about it because I believe that people are better off knowing the stark reality of things, than in harbouring false hopes, only to be disappointed.

The child protection and family court system.
There are a number of reasons why child protection systems throughout the western world have the same problems. Put in simple terms, it is generally because the responsible officers have great powers, but they are usually lacking in the training, knowledge and skills to be able to practice competently and members of the upper management do not have the competence to organise proper training, which in turn leads to stress and high staff turnover rates. In addition the mechanisms for accountability are sadly lacking and are largely hypothetical than existent in reality. As in British Columbia, child protection authorities become large, unwieldy bureaucracies, where a great deal of staff time is spent on maintaining the internal needs of the system and in protecting staff from criticism.

Child protection services are governed by legislation and thus involve the courts. In theory the law and the courts protect parents and their children from unwarranted intrusion by the authorities. In theory the courts also provide a medium of accountability for child protection staff. In theory there are also various internal review systems and public watchdogs who hold staff accountable. In reality most of these media seldom function and are often largely ritualistic, offering process with no outcomes. There are reasons for all this and I first want to deal with the courts, because that is where I get a lot of questions.

In order to realise why the courts are largely ineffective in following the letter and spirit of child protection law, one has to understand the longstanding culture of the courts. The courts are an adversarial arena, where opponents engage in long and tedious battles. The courts are also an industry providing employment for lawyers, judges and the many types of support staff. Too many people have a vested interest in prolonging cases and it is no surprise that cases often last as long as the money holds out. Family court often used to be held before lay magistrates and protection cases were examined on a less formal basis. One seldom saw a lawyer in court. Now family court is held before highly paid judges and the courts are awash with lawyers. The protection court has become a good source of revenue. In British Columbia the governing statute is called the Child Family & Community Service Act (CF&CSA). This act does allow for family court to be more informal, but the ingrained culture of the courts and legal professions soon turns family court into an arena that is just as adversarial, disputive, expensive and time-consuming as any criminal court. Nobody plans it to be that way. They just cannot help themselves.

The child protection services operate on a basis of continual anxiety. Not being trained in the basic rules of evidence and being unsure of their own skills, protection staff are always worried that something unexpected will happen and they will get the blame. When a whole organisation operates in anxiety, the staff becomes controlling and secretive. This rubs off onto the courts. Judges are worried that the worst could happen and they tend to play it safe and to make cautious decisions. Even when there is no clear evidence to cause concern, they still tend to play it safe by supporting the establishment and they usually rubber stamp the requests of ministry directors.

(tomorrow part 2: ‘Do You Need a Lawyer?
Ray Ferris retired from a a career with the Ministry of Children and Family Development has been openly critical of Ministry practices and case management for some time. Occasionally I print some of his informed pieces. Ray is the author of 'The Art of Child Protection'. You can purchase it from him by writing to )

1 comment:

  1. Social worker turnover in most cases I've read about and experienced appears to be very common, and deliberately so.

    I don't mean the kind of turnover where they quit, but where several workers in an office rotate and handle the family. The experienced workers plan and may perform the removal, then step back during the long wait for trial or return agreement.

    After removal, parents are relegated to new workers with little training. The original investigators step out of the picture, but still advise their replacements. During the ensuing months, workers cycle further due to holiday, pregnancy, transfer, sickness - you name it.

    In my opinion, this situation has nothing to do with training shortcomings. The preponderance of this activity suggests the appearance of ever-bumbling and overcautious removals is deliberate.

    The end result is the same, lengthy incarceration of children while 'things' get sorted out.


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