Blog | May 15, 2013

Op-ed by Vice President of PIA and Chair of the PIA Task Force, Human Services and Poverty, Lori Sigurdson, in today's Edmonton Journal.
While the new Children First Act appears to contain some steps forward in the oversight of child intervention services in Alberta, there are numerous unanswered questions regarding the shift in delegated responsibilities, the lack of consultation and the speed with which the legislation is being pushed through.The shift in delegation from the director to the front-line child intervention worker is especially concerning.We know there are significant workplace issues in child protection, including the high rate of staff turnover. Recent statistics indicate 50 per cent of the workers have been employed for two years or less.A high percentage of staff is on medical leave because of myriad workplace issues. Staff consistently report they are not supported by management and organizational change is not managed or communicated well.High caseloads and a lack of resources only exacerbate these difficulties.Child intervention workers are recruited from many backgrounds. Sixty per cent of employees are not registered social workers.Moving the authority and responsibility for important decisions to front-line intervention workers could inadvertently put vulnerable children at further risk. The director must retain authority and responsibility so that the system continues to ensure accountability for the safety of children at every level.Children and families in the child welfare system have significant challenges that are not easily overcome. Will the front-line child intervention worker be solely responsible when things go wrong?Another concern regarding the transfer of authority and responsibility to the child intervention worker is the extremely broad definition ascribed to this worker.While well-intentioned, some child intervention workers might lack the necessary experience and education to make the best decision in the interests of the child they are representing.Will a worker be employed by contracted agencies? The vagueness of the definition indicates this could occur. Making substantial decisions about the health and well-being of vulnerable children is an authority and responsibility the government has been entrusted with and must retain.While Human Services Minister Dave Hancock indicates he consulted with various professional organizations before drafting this legislation, the Alberta College of Social Workers, the professional association for social workers in the province, was not consulted.As social workers, we have a unique role in working with vulnerable individuals in the province, whether they are children, seniors or Albertans living in poverty.We take our responsibility to protect and promote the well-being of these individuals very seriously, which is why we have all earned post-secondary education in our field to ensure we meet the highest standards of care and professionalism. We follow a professional code of ethics and standards of practice. We are accountable for our work.Our final concern is the speed with which Bill 25 is being pushed through the legislative assembly.It was first introduced on May 7 and has already passed second reading. It will likely pass third reading this week.We need to slow down and make sure this legislation is indeed in the best interests of children.The Alberta College of Social Workers is hopeful that the government will reconsider its decision to put this legislation forward until there is proper consultation with the workers currently serving children and their families.We all want to put children first in Alberta. We need to step back and work together to make that happen.Lori Sigurdson is manager of professional affairs for the Alberta College of Social Workers.© Copyright (c) The Edmonton JournalRead the article at The Edmonton Journal.