Child-Welfare System Stuck in 'Chaos'
Any of the regimes that have been tried in the past would work if we really cared
As the Sinclair inquiry grinds away and my distress grows, several people have urged me to respond in some manner to my reading of historical child-welfare issues.
I am not currently in the active service loop, but for half a century I was a participant and observer of the child-welfare system. As a social worker, I worked for a few years in child welfare. I served on the board of the old Children's Aid Society of Winnipeg (CAS), and in the 1990s on the board of Winnipeg Child and Family Services. For many years I contributed in a small way to the network of services dealing with child physical and sexual abuse. Finally, I am a past president of the Manitoba Association of Social Workers (MASW) and was on the board of the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers.
I have for decades been of the strong belief that while paying lip service to the idea that children are our most important assets, society doesn't really give a rip to try to prove it. This is not new. It is historical fact that the CAS in Winnipeg grew out of the already existing Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We have seemingly always worried more about pets than "our most precious asset."
Throughout my career, there have been periodic efforts to tweak the system, in the apparent belief that this will magically solve the problems inherent in whatever is the current service-delivery vehicle. We've moved from a single-service system to regional offices, back to single-service, and a devolution to aboriginal delivery mechanisms.
Here's a news flash -- any one of the organizational methods would work pretty well if there was the will to make them successful. The reality has been that regardless of the political party in power, there has never been a concerted effort to look at the full requirements to make a child-welfare system that can at least reduce the problems. This should not be a partisan issue, but any (even partial) solutions take more time than the next election date, and hence are not sexy enough to warrant full commitment.
During my two stints on two different child-welfare boards, the message from government was essentially the same: reduce costs, don't take so many kids into care, and why are you in a deficit position?
In the case of CAS, it was "shape up or we'll take you over." And so they did. Resources have continued to be hard to find, and the problems continue to escalate. Over the decades, hundreds and hundreds of dedicated social workers have gone out every day in an attempt to investigate and protect kids and families, praying that this won't be the day that the decision to check on Child A won't mean Child B is in jeopardy.
And if brought into care because that jeopardy seems imminent, what alternative-care facility will there be?
I've sat in ministers' offices and been told we were spending too much money and had to find ways to reduce costs. Which kids do we sacrifice?
There was an excellent letter in the Free Press on Dec. 10, titled Getting at the root problem. It pointed out the less-than-obscure truth that problems of poverty and housing clearly exacerbate child welfare, and influence the amount of intervention child-welfare workers must make. …