Easing education requirements for B.C. child protection workers prompts petition
Ministry says broadening its hiring requirements will help it address ongoing challenges with recruitment
B.C. social workers are calling out the province's Ministry of Children and Family Development for expanding the educational requirements of child protection workers to now include degrees like theology, anthropology and sociology.
The B.C. Association of Social Workers recently launched a petition asking the ministry to reverse the changes, which took effect in January.
The ministry says "broadening its hiring requirements" will help it address ongoing challenges with recruitment and is in line with recommendations from a 2016 report on Indigenous child welfare.
"Our front-line workers are held to rigorous standards," the ministry said in a written statement.
The statement said the new, broader qualifications open the door to more candidates from a more diverse background.
Right now, most child-protection workers need a bachelor or master's degree of social work or a post-secondary education in child and youth care and counselling psychology.
But the social workers association's president, Michael Crawford, says social workers bring a specific set of skills and knowledge to the job and loosening educational requirements could put children in the ministry's charge at risk.
"We just think they're going in the wrong direction on this one," Crawford said. "We know that educated and trained social workers have a very clear code of ethics that they apply to their work."
In 1995, the province's Gove Inquiry Into Child Protection in British Columbia found that about half of the Ministry of Children and Family Development's child protection workers didn't have appropriate academic requirements to do the job, and only about 20 per cent were subject to professional regulations.
The inquiry recommended that staff working as social workers have, at minimum, a bachelor's of social work degree, and complete 80 hours of mandatory professional development every two years.
Crawford says qualified social workers have a higher standard of practice.
"If they're registered with the college they are subject to discipline by the college for malpractice," Crawford said.
But the ministry says its changes will give it "more flexibility to identify community-specific needs, particularly for Indigenous and remote communities."
The ministry points out that Grand Chief Ed John's 2016 report on Indigenous child welfare recommended that the ministry hire more staff to work in First Nation communities.
Expanding the educational requirements, the ministry argues, will help it be able to hire staff with a combination of relevant education and work experience.
A bachelor's in social work will continue to be the preferred educational background, the ministry says. Employees will also be equipped with on-the-job training.
Addressing systemic change
But Judy Fox-McGuire, an executive with the B.C. Government Employees Union, says lowering educational requirements won't provide systemic change that's needed in the ministry.
"What needs to happen is not to de-skill recruitment qualifications but to treat the social workers working there with respect and dignity and to make that a place where they want to work," Fox-McGuire said.
Crawford says the B.C. Association of Social Workers has recommended other recruitment and retention strategies, like lowering case loads, student loan forgiveness programs and working directly with social work schools.