Episode 6 of 7: SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS TO B.C.'S CHILD PROTECTION
Today, Recommendation for Assessments … that's right, after four episodes reviewing current problems in the B.C. Child Protection programme, Ray Ferris is providing solutions. Remember, that the ten-page document from which all of this information has been taken has been given to some members of the B.C. Legislative Assembly.
The segments for this blog are prepared with Ray's permission. Ray has written many articles on this blog for the past decade. Ray Ferris retired after a career that included significant years with the MCFD. He has written a book entitled 'The Art of Child Protection.' You can order Mr. Ferris' book entitled 'the Art of Child Protection' by contacting the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Ray Ferris.
Assessments: A great deal of protection work involves knowing how to do assessments. Such work needs experience and judgement. A worker may need to be called on to do various assessments such as risk assessments, foster home studies, parental capacity assessments, general social assessments and adoption home studies. Although these assessments have different purposes, they are far more alike than different. They all require the assembling of evidence-based information.
This means having interview skills and listening skills and knowledge of normal and abnormal behaviour and social norms. Knowledge of child development is especially important. Interviews should always have structure. The format can be flexible as long as the necessary areas are covered. An assessor must start with an open mind and only make judgements after looking at all the facts. Human behaviour is usually consistent and it is important to understand this, particularly in assessing injury to children. Most injuries to children are accidental and one should never assume deliberate injury without good evidence, but unfortunately this happens quite regularly. This can simply be due to the social worker being anxious and afraid of being wrong.
When social workers have assessment skills, there is no need for anyone else to do a basic assessment like parental capacity assessments. It makes no sense to employ expensive PhD psychologists, who are no more qualified to do these assessments than any good social worker or registered counsellor. The Law Society of BC has excellent guidelines for parental capacity assessments and they specifically state that psychometric testing should only be done in special cases. One can always employ a psychologist for this purpose only. This greatly reduces the cost and the time taken for a PCA. It should be possible to do a perfectly adequate assessment in two to four weeks.
Forms and checklists can have their uses as handy reminders of necessary basic information. A good example of the limitation of forms can be found with the risk assessment form used by the children's ministry. It takes a number of social functions and asks the staff to assign a rating of one to ten for them. These assessments can be purely subjective and require no viable evidence to back them up. When the form is uses by staff with poor professional skills the assessment becomes useless. I have seen a risk assessment where the social worker had made no home visit in two years and simply put "information not available" to all the questions about housing and home care standards and many other categories. The worker also left the page blank on strengths to work with. This in spite of both parents having good education and work records. This was signed off by superiors and presented to court to support a request for a continuing care order. I mention this as an example of the futility of relying on such forms when used by people with inadequate skills and poor mentoring.
Training is vital and should be guaranteed, because it is far more costly to leave workers untrained than it is to guarantee training. A good trainer can train in the basic guidelines of child protection, the important sections of the law, a code of ethics and the essentials of assessments. Where will you find people within the ministry with these skills? As I have demonstrated in this paper, these skills can all be learned and taught.
Tomorrow, the last in this seven part series … Some General Information