‘You’re constantly drowning’ in cases and paperwork, says B.C. social worker

An illustrated look at a day in the life of a child-protection worker in British Columbia

  • Aug. 28, 2019 12:30 p.m.

By: Samantha Garvey, Francesca Fionda and Brielle Morgan with illustrations by Miriam Libicki

Social workers entrusted with protecting kids in B.C. are often on the front lines of some of society’s stickiest, most deeply entrenched problems: poverty, addiction and, for many Indigenous families whose children remain grossly overrepresented in the child-welfare system, intergenerational trauma wrought by decades of racist, colonial policies.

But a recent investigation by the collaborative journalism project Spotlight: Child Welfare found that many of these social workers are failing to meet basic requirements for kids’ care in B.C.

Data from the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s own performance audits shows that social workers aren’t assessing potentially urgent calls for protection quickly enough, completing safety assessments on time, nor sufficiently monitoring the well-being of kids placed in foster or adoptive homes.

Overall, the ministry gave itself a failing grade on nearly 40 per cent of its critical performance measures.

And while it may be tempting to blame social workers, research suggests we’re not properly resourcing these frontline workers.

In October 2015, then-Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released The Thin Front Line: MCFD staffing crunch leaves social workers over-burdened, B.C. children under-protected, an in-depth look into staffing issues in B.C.’s child-welfare system.

She found that even Ministry of Children and Family Development offices with a full complement of social workers couldn’t keep up with workloads, due to the increasing complexity of the work. “The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving,” the report found.

A subsequent report by Bernard Richard, Turpel-Lafond’s successor, found that social workers at B.C.’s Delegated Aboriginal Agencies (DAAs) — which serve Indigenous kids and families — are even more hard-pressed.

“Funding for each DAA in the province is negotiated on a one-off regional basis,” leading to inconsistency, Richard found. According to his report, funding constraints mean that DAA social workers are often paid less than their counterparts at ministry offices — compounding the issues of recruitment and retention.

“DAA child protection staff interviewed as part of this review reported carrying an average of 30 cases at a time,” Richard found, noting that’s 50 per cent more cases than the guidelines recommend. In 2014, the union representing B.C.’s frontline social workers found that burnout, stress and fatigue rates in the ministry are “significantly higher than the rest of B.C.’s public service.”

And according to the social workers who’ve shared their perspectives with the Spotlight: Child Welfare team — via Facebook messages, emails, phone calls and this survey — not much has changed.

We asked “Jamie” — a child protection social worker whose identity we agreed to protect as she fears losing her job for speaking out — what it’s like to work in B.C. today.

Here’s what she told us (as illustrated by Miriam Libicki):

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to place comic strip in the correct order.


This story was produced as part of Spotlight: Child Welfare — a collaborative journalism project that aims to deepen reporting on B.C.’s child-welfare system. It was originally published on The Discourse. Tell us what you think about the story.

spotlight child welfare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Avalanche season comes to an end at PACWEST Provincials

With Files from Mo Hussain The College of the Rockies Avalanche season… Continue reading

Kootenay-Columbia MP urges end to ‘illegal roadblocks’ in solidarity with pipeline dispute

Rob Morrison says protestors across Canada need to remove roadblocks on roads, rail lines

Regional District of East Kootenay draft 5-year financial plan open for review

The public comment period is open until noon on March 2

Eagles Boxers at BC Championships

Pictured above: Eagles Boxers are back from the BC Provincial Championships in… Continue reading

It happened this week in 1913

February 16 - 22: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Okanagan man swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

‘Hilariously bad’: RCMP looking for couple with forged, paper Alberta licence plate

Mounties said the car crashed when it lost a wheel but the duo ran away as police arrived

Most Read