Thursday, September 18, 2014


By Ray Ferris, This piece is one of a series Ray will write here.

Knowledge and skills.
The knowledge and skills needed by social workers in protection work can be defined, taught and trained. I will start with the skills that are most often lacking. The most obvious one is the lack of evidentiary skills. Social workers do not seem to know what evidence is reliable and what is not. They cannot distinguish between factual evidence, eyewitness evidence, expert opinion evidence, hearsay, conjecture, assumption and rumour. Crown counsel should be screening out the weak items in the spectrum of evidence and counselling moderation. This was done in the B. case, but the director ignored this counsel. If the social workers only proceeded on factual and eyewitness evidence, cases could be shortened and of course expert opinion evidence should not be accepted without rigorous process.

Another very weak area in social work training is in knowing how to do various social assessments. Risk assessments, parental capacity assessment, general assessments and things like adoption and foster home studies all need the same generic skills and they should fall well within the training range of social workers. All these skills should be based on facts and they used to be commonplace for trained social workers. With the erosion of all these skills, social workers no longer do ordinary assessments, but simply become brokers to hire psychologists, private practice social workers, registered clinical counsellors and various community service groups.

Social workers appear to have no knowledge of guidelines for the proper forensic interviewing of children. Good interministry guidelines were drawn up over twenty years ago, but they have been long forgotten. Because of their lack of knowledge in this area social workers are unable to judge the work of others when they contract it out. Private practice social workers, psychologists and registered clinical counsellors are not trained in child protection work and so we get into a situation where the blind are leading the blind. It has been postulated that the skills should be taught to those who have the legal responsibility, just as is done with policemen and a host of other professional occupations. This will not happen without a strong commitment to training and retention. This will mean increased funding in these areas, but it does not mean increased overall funding. The systemic fix is to define and fund a good core-training programme with clear goals and objectives. Training must be guaranteed to every new employee and there should be refresher training for supervisors and senior workers.

Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' This is the first in a series of pieces Ray will write here. You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at

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