The province says it is taking steps to deal with high turnover of staff who deal with children at risk, but one MLA says he's worried about the impact vacancies and high turnover could be having.
On Wednesday, a committee of MLAs received a briefing on investigations from P.E.I.'s Child Protection Services, as well as an advisory committee's 99 recommendations to update the Child Protection Act.
Liberal health critic Robert Henderson said he's concerned about a constant turnover of staff, and what he referred to as job posting after job posting.
"I want to know that the children in my riding are protected, I'm sure every MLA here does," he said.
"And so that raises questions about whether your ability to deliver service and protect children in this province is up to the standards that would be required."
The province admitted turnover is an issue, but Kelly Peck, the director of Child Protection Services, said she doesn't believe it's having an impact on the services being provided to children and families.
"I think it's impacting the staff that are probably working more hours than they would normally be if we are short-staffed," she said.
Peck said it's particularly challenging to find and keep staff in rural areas — an issue addressed in the advisory committee's report.
The report said the province needs to focus on recruiting and retaining workers, and listen to the concerns of staff already on the job.
There are 72 social worker positions within the Child Protective Services operation. There are currently only three vacancies, two of which are in the process of being filled.
We are certainly not willing to compromise the quality of work we are doing with children and families — Kelly Peck
"Sometimes we have to be creative with how we reallocate staff or which staff are responding to different areas at any given time depending on staffing, but we are certainly not willing to compromise the quality of work we are doing with children and families as a result," Peck said.
"The turnover piece itself would be most concerning for children and families in terms of receiving new workers, so we are certainly committed to making an effort in stabilizing our workforce."
Meanwhile, a lot of work has continued throughout the staffing changes.
2,100 investigations in fiscal year
In the 2020-21 fiscal year, Child Protection Services received more than 3,800 reports resulting in more than 2,100 investigations. The department identified 704 children who were at some level of risk in those investigations, and 176 were removed from their home, either voluntarily or by court order.
Henderson questioned whether the existing staff could keep up with the caseload.
"When you find out that there's 2,100 investigations that are occurring annually in this province, impacting about 704 children ... then you start to look at 'Can the staff handle this volume?'"
The advisory committee's report said part of the solution to the staffing challenges may be to offer a social work degree program at UPEI.
The university said the province held "very preliminary discussions" on that last year, but has not followed up since.