April 4, 2019
The Honourable Katrine Conroy
Ministry of Children & Family Development
Room 134 Parliament Buildings
Re: Broadening Hiring Credentials for New Frontline Social Workers
Dear Minister Katrine Conroy,
The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) was founded in 1926 to monitor employment conditions and to establish standards of practice within the profession of social work. In this regard, CASW has supported the development of professional social work practice in each province and territory throughout the profession’s history.
In upholding this historical mandate, I am writing with deep concern about the stated intention of the Government of British Columbia to expediate the de-professionalization of child protection services by broadening the hiring credentials for positions that fall within the Scope of Practice of Social Work. By broadening the hiring credentials for these positions to a combination of a related degree, post-graduate diploma or post-graduate certificate in a human services field (e.g. psychology, sociology, Indigenous studies), along with a minimum two years of post-degree work experience, new workers will lack appropriate education, knowledge, skill, values, and ethics to best serve people and communities.
It is CASW’s understanding that this decision to place children and families at risk is grounded, in part, in the understanding that other jurisdictions in Canada are moving away from the requirement that Social Workers provide professional child welfare services. And further, that CASW’s own recent Understanding Social Work and Child Welfare: Canadian Survey and Interviews with Child Welfare Experts research paper is being used as justification for the de-professionalization of child welfare in British Columbia.
First, in terms of the evolution of regulation and accountability of professional social work practice, jurisdictions seeking to strengthen the protection and support for children and families are moving towards enshrining, in legislation, the Scope of Practice of social work. The announced intention of the Government of British Columbia is a direct contradiction to protecting the public with registered, accountable and evidence based social work practice.
History demonstrates that not requiring child welfare workers to have Social Work education, nor requiring them to be registered, is a short-sighted decision that will place children and families at risk – a decision that has the strong potential to replicate the abysmal history of non-regulated child welfare services in the province.
Secondly, in CASW’s recent Child Welfare Paper, the overwhelming experience of Social Workers who participated in this project was deep concern about de-professionalism in child welfare: from their experience, de-professionalism is driven by factors that take time away from building relationships and supporting clients.
It is unfortunate that the CASW Child Welfare Paper’s acknowledgement that the reality of the field makes it difficult for many jurisdictions to maintain the social work educational requirements due to cost or other factors is now being used by your government as justification to structurally remove Child Welfare roles from within Social Work’s Scope of Practice.
In this regard, the systemic challenges Social Workers face, including the lack of adequate data and information to guide policy and planning, increased administrative requirements that create added burden on social work practice, and lack of value placed on Social Workers in child welfare by organizations, were overlooked in this decision.
Every day, Social Workers face these structural challenges and yet still uphold their professional Code of Ethics: given the systemic issues at play, how can individuals without a social work education and no professional Code of Ethics be expected to better succeed at protecting children and supporting families? In CASW’s view, your government is setting children and families up for risk and poor outcomes.
In addition to the experiences of de-professionalism Social Workers involved in child welfare roles provided to CASW, they also recommended that CASW focus advocacy efforts on both the working conditions for Social Workers in child welfare, and on improving the conditions for clients by advocating for increased services that address the primary drivers in families that result in children requiring protection services. These include: adult addiction and mental health services, poverty reduction, housing and measures to improve social equity. Study participants advised CASW to focus advocacy strategies on the following:
- Addressing the disproportionality of Indigenous children and families involved with the child welfare system,
- Factors that influence working conditions such as;
- retention and turnover,
- workload and caseload,
- creating supportive organizational climate,
- increasing the value that organizations place on social work knowledge and practice, and
- ensuring that workload responsibilities provide for adequate time to spend with clients.
The strategies that Social Workers collectively advocate for in order to support both their professional practice and the people they have the honour to serve align directly with your own mandates: to enhance and improve child-protection services to ensure that all children grow up in safe and nurturing environment, to invest in child protection to hire additional Social Workers and staff to support Social Workers; and to implement incentives to attract Social Workers to rural and underserved regions.
To this end CASW strongly supports the BC Association of Social Workers and together we ask that the Government of British Columbia reverse this short-sighted decision to broaden the hiring credentials for positions firmly within the Social Work Scope of Practice, and instead invest in the lives of children by ensuring they are served by accountable, qualified and registered Social Workers.
Jan Christianson-Wood, MSW, RSW