‘You’re constantly drowning’ in cases and paperwork, says B.C. social worker

An illustrated look at a day in the life of a child-protection worker in British Columbia

  • Aug. 28, 2019 11:30 a.m.

By: Samantha Garvey, Francesca Fionda and Brielle Morgan with illustrations by Miriam Libicki

Social workers entrusted with protecting kids in B.C. are often on the front lines of some of society’s stickiest, most deeply entrenched problems: poverty, addiction and, for many Indigenous families whose children remain grossly overrepresented in the child-welfare system, intergenerational trauma wrought by decades of racist, colonial policies.

But a recent investigation by the collaborative journalism project Spotlight: Child Welfare found that many of these social workers are failing to meet basic requirements for kids’ care in B.C.

Data from the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s own performance audits shows that social workers aren’t assessing potentially urgent calls for protection quickly enough, completing safety assessments on time, nor sufficiently monitoring the well-being of kids placed in foster or adoptive homes.

Overall, the ministry gave itself a failing grade on nearly 40 per cent of its critical performance measures.

And while it may be tempting to blame social workers, research suggests we’re not properly resourcing these frontline workers.

In October 2015, then-Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released The Thin Front Line: MCFD staffing crunch leaves social workers over-burdened, B.C. children under-protected, an in-depth look into staffing issues in B.C.’s child-welfare system.

She found that even Ministry of Children and Family Development offices with a full complement of social workers couldn’t keep up with workloads, due to the increasing complexity of the work. “The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving,” the report found.

A subsequent report by Bernard Richard, Turpel-Lafond’s successor, found that social workers at B.C.’s Delegated Aboriginal Agencies (DAAs) — which serve Indigenous kids and families — are even more hard-pressed.

“Funding for each DAA in the province is negotiated on a one-off regional basis,” leading to inconsistency, Richard found. According to his report, funding constraints mean that DAA social workers are often paid less than their counterparts at ministry offices — compounding the issues of recruitment and retention.

“DAA child protection staff interviewed as part of this review reported carrying an average of 30 cases at a time,” Richard found, noting that’s 50 per cent more cases than the guidelines recommend. In 2014, the union representing B.C.’s frontline social workers found that burnout, stress and fatigue rates in the ministry are “significantly higher than the rest of B.C.’s public service.”

And according to the social workers who’ve shared their perspectives with the Spotlight: Child Welfare team — via Facebook messages, emails, phone calls and this survey — not much has changed.

We asked “Jamie” — a child protection social worker whose identity we agreed to protect as she fears losing her job for speaking out — what it’s like to work in B.C. today.

Here’s what she told us (as illustrated by Miriam Libicki):

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to place comic strip in the correct order.


This story was produced as part of Spotlight: Child Welfare — a collaborative journalism project that aims to deepen reporting on B.C.’s child-welfare system. It was originally published on The Discourse. Tell us what you think about the story.

Just Posted

North Delta crime beat, week of Sept. 8

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

City of White Rock hosts official pier reopening

Event included ribbon-cutting, speeches, live music

Surrey school district to allow students to miss class for global climate strike

Students must be excused from school by parents; will be able to make up missed work without penalty

Surrey rallies for change in global climate strike

Holland Park event part of marches around the world Sept. 20

Surrey RCMP need help to find missing man

Denis Godard, 64, who was reported missing on Sept. 19

VIDEO: Grizzly bears fight along northern B.C. highway in rare footage

Cari McGillivray posted the head-turning video, shot near Stewart, B.C., to social media

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

B.C. woman photographs massive ant swarm on Abbotsford driveway

She asked what the ants were doing? The answer: war

Westbound crash on Highway 1 in Langley causing extreme traffic delays

Collision occured just after Glover Road, cars backed up all the way to 264th Street

Police arrest B.C. phone scammer linked to illegal call centres in India

Person arrested in Burnaby here on a work visa, says police

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

Takaya, B.C.’s intriguing lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Most Read