Province calls for outside help in child welfare 'transformation'

·4 min read
The province began an overhaul of child welfare services in 2015. It's not clear how long the process is expected to continue. (Costea Andrea M / Shutterstock - image credit)
The province began an overhaul of child welfare services in 2015. It's not clear how long the process is expected to continue. (Costea Andrea M / Shutterstock - image credit)

Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services is looking for outside help — once again — on an overhaul of the child welfare system that started six years ago.

The province issued a tender on March 4 for a partner "to support new and emerging initiatives that advance child welfare."

The initial focus of the partnership, according to tender documents, is the development and rollout of new programming in the category of prevention and early intervention.

Some of that work already started in-house in 2020, but a spokesperson said the department "requires additional temporary support."

"So we're seeking help from outside professional services with expertise in project management and delivery, change management and with experience in social services redesign," Carley Sampson said by email.

"Our staff's expertise and experience will be a big part of this process, but we recognize that they will need to continue to dedicate their time to doing their day-to-day work, on which so many Nova Scotians rely."

The tender is for between two and five years, and the winning bidder could also be called on to support work in the other two branches of child welfare services — child protection, and placement (foster care and adoption).

Social worker says province not looking at 'core issues'

Jacqueline Barkley, a registered social worker for over 40 years who provides counselling to clients in the child welfare system, says her caseload is larger and the waiting list for her services is longer now that at any point in the 17 years she's been working with child welfare clients.

Barkley said she agrees with the department that the child welfare system needs additional support, but she believes they're taking the wrong approach.

"Essentially, what they're doing now is contracting particular problem areas, rather than co-ordinating internally the kind of services that need to be delivered," Barkley said.

"It's tacking on things to deal with identified problems, without looking at core issues."

Barkley attributes those "core issues" — the large caseloads for social workers and long waits for clients — to Nova Scotia's Children and Family Services Act.

'Transformation' of community services began in 2015

The department's new tender is the latest step in what the department refers to as a "transformation" of the child welfare system, which began in 2015.

One of the first major steps the province took was to overhaul the Children and Family Services Act. Those changes were introduced in the legislature in 2015 — the same year the department started bringing in outside consultants to help shape and manage the transformation.

It's not clear how much more work might be required to complete the department's vision, or how long it could take. Community Services Minister Kelly Regan declined CBC's interview request for this story.

The transformation of Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services began before Kelly Regan became minister. She came into the cabinet post in 2017.
The transformation of Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services began before Kelly Regan became minister. She came into the cabinet post in 2017.(Craig Paisley/CBC)

Legislation to undergo further review

The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers was not keen on the changes to the act when they were introduced six years ago. The changes were adopted into law in 2017, and now, four years into practice, the college — like Barkley — maintains the act is fundamentally flawed.

As part of a mandatory four-year review of the act, the college submitted an analysis to the province (and shared it publicly earlier this month). That analysis said social workers have become overburdened with heavy caseloads and administrative duties, while clients are being underserved.

The changes to the act have "contributed to greater inequity and inequality and [the act] needs serious revisions," the submission said.

The college argued the province needs to do a more comprehensive review of the act — something Sampson said wasn't possible because of COVID-19.

"The scope of this review was certainly impacted as the department navigated the first wave of the pandemic. Understandably, our focus had to remain fixed on serving families and children," said Sampson.

"We have already turned our attention to the next mandated review of the Act and look forward to consulting with our stakeholders and partners, including the College of Social Workers."

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