Threats, smashed windows, and a lack of support: Why this Labrador social worker quit

·5 min read
Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

A social worker from Labrador says she quit her job in the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development after a client threatened her, and her vehicle and home were subsequently damaged.

Cavelle MacNeil says the provincial government offered little assistance in the aftermath.

But the minister in charge of the department says they did all they could do to help.

Meanwhile, a union leader is slamming the province over MacNeil's treatment, saying what happened to her is emblematic of broader issues facing social workers in the province.

MacNeil had been a social worker in child protection in Happy Valley-Goose Bay since 2013.

In a frightening incident, she says, a client on her caseload threatened her.

"I was told that I would be paid a visit," MacNeil said.

"And a very short time later, I actually experienced some vandalism to my home and to my personal vehicle."

Cavelle MacNeil
Cavelle MacNeil

Overnight on March 21, Cavelle MacNeil says, her truck windows were smashed.

Then, three days later, the window in her daughter's bedroom was broken.

In total, says MacNeil, there was thousands of dollars worth of damage done.

As a social worker, MacNeil says it was her job to ensure the safety and well being of children.

But she says the attack jeopardized the safety of her own children.

"I actually subjected my children to emotional and physical risk," she said.

"That is a part that I sleep with, that really bothers me."

Cavelle MacNeil
Cavelle MacNeil

The RCMP in Happy Valley-Goose Bay investigated the incident, but no charges were laid. MacNeil also says she couldn't get a peace bond against the alleged perpetrator, because the courts weren't hearing such matters during the pandemic lockdown.

Even though she believes the attack was a direct result of her work, MacNeil says she was told to use her home insurance to cover the damage and seek help from the employee assistance program.

"We should not have to be paying out of our own pocket for those kinds of things," she said.

"It's not my fault."

MacNeil says the province paid the deductible on her vehicle insurance, but hasn't paid for damage repairs at her home.

She submitted a claim to the province for the repairs, but six months later, it is still sitting with the Treasury Board.

Cavelle MacNeil
Cavelle MacNeil

"I'm very frustrated. I'm angry. I'm not going to lie. I'm definitely angry. I feel very let down. I've committed myself for almost seven full years very passionately to the department. I worked endless hours," MacNeil said.

"I don't feel that they've taken it serious in terms of supporting me as an employee at that time."

As for reimbursing McNeil for the damage, the province is mum, citing employee privacy.

"As an employer, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is required to maintain confidentiality related to employees' personal information and work history. We are therefore unable to comment on your request," read a statement from the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Cavelle MacNeil
Cavelle MacNeil

While this incident was the most severe, MacNeil says it's not the first time she's been victimized physically or emotionally at work.

And she believes the department's decision-makers need to recognize the risk social workers with CSSD face daily.

MacNeil says in the last year at least nine social workers from the Happy Valley-Goose Bay office have quit. She says if the department wants to recruit and retain social workers in Labrador, it is going to have to provide more support.

Claim doesn't meet policy

Brian Warr, minister of CSSD, says he can't speak directly to the issue.

"We've done all that we could possibly do," Warr said in an interview Tuesday.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the department told CBC News there is a government-wide human resources personal-loss policy that states a deputy minister can approve loss claims up to $1,000, but anything more than that requires approval of the Human Resource Secretariat.

CBC
CBC

"And unfortunately, that part of it doesn't meet the policy," Warr said.

Still, Warr also says he feels for MacNeil.

"I certainly respect the decision that she's made. You know, we go out of our way to ensure the safety of our social workers. And certainly we value the work."

NAPE 'not satisfied' with response

But Jerry Earle, president of NAPE — the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees — says the government's handling of this incident is unacceptable.

"I'm not satisfied either with a response like that from a minister or anybody who's responsible for overseeing social workers in Newfoundland and Labrador," Earle said.

"This was damage that was done because of a part of her job that she was doing."

Earle says MacNeil's situation is not unique.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

"We've had to have social workers extracted from certain areas because of the threat they were under," he said.

"Extracting a child from a home is not an easy decision for any human being to make. These social workers have to do it routinely."

In January, NAPE surveyed nearly 350 social workers anonymously. Respondents called their jobs very or extremely stressful, said their workload has increased, and they don't have good work-life balance.

But what's more alarming, says Earle, is that two-thirds of respondents say they've experienced or witnessed violence at work, and more than half are concerned about their safety at work.

Still, Earle says problems have escalated over the past number of years. And he says social workers' concerns aren't being heard or understood by management.

"It is very serious," said Earle. "It's not a new problem, but it is getting worse."

Meanwhile, Earle and Warr are soon scheduled to meet on issues facing social workers. Warr says he'll listen to the union's concerns and he's hoping to hold a round table later this week.

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