British Columbia

Kids in care suffering due to low wages and lack of support for social workers, says BCGEU

Stressed, underpaid and overworked child protection staff are failing children in care, warns the union representing government workers in B.C.

Union for government workers says B.C. is ignoring recommendations of Plecas's review of child welfare system

Doug Kinna of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) says low wages for social workers in B.C. means a high turnover rate. The BCGEU is demanding an immediate increase in child protection worker wages.

Stressed, underpaid and overworked child protection staff are failing children in care, warns the union representing government workers in B.C.

Social workers and representatives from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) rallied at MLA Sam Sullivan's office Tuesday.

They were calling for more support for B.C. social workers, days after B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development apologized to the family of 15-year-old Nick Lang who died six days after entering government-funded drug rehab.

"We have been making changes ... so [front-line workers] can focus on direct services to clients," MCFD minister Stephanie Cadieux wrote in an email to CBC.

Earlier this year, B.C. announced $332 million in spending over the next three years, in response to recommendations laid out by Bob Plecas in his report into the child welfare system in B.C. That money is for additional front-line social workers and support staff.

But the BCGEU says the provincial government has failed to act on many of Plecas's recommendations.

The review said, "maximum hourly rates for delegated child protection workers appear to be about 11 percent below the Canadian maximum salary average."

Plecas reviewed child protection after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in July of 2015 that the province had abused its authority.

His report called for an immediate overhaul of the child welfare system in B.C.

Official opposition spokesperson for children and families, Melanie Mark, says social workers are overwhelmed and uninspired to go to work. She says because wages are low, so is the morale.

Melanie Mark, the official opposition spokesperson for Children and Families, says she worries nothing was earmarked for wage increases.

"The front lines are completely overwhelmed and they are doing double efforts. People don't feel inspired to go to work," Mark said.

'Province can't retain social workers'

She said she is particularly concerned for Indigenous children who are over-represented in the child welfare system in B.C. and who may not get proper care due to overworked social workers.

But the BCGEU said low wages are only part of the reason the province can't retain social workers, also citing lack of backfill and inadequate training.

Changes have been made to lighten workloads, add staff and reduce administrative duties, B.C. government officials wrote in an email to CBC.

The recommendations made by Plecas in his review and calls by the BCGEU to raise child protection worker wages and develop a credential-based accreditation system for group homes — are also being discussed, it said.