Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia social workers say law changes have created 'chaos'

A group of social workers in Nova Scotia is taking aim at recent changes to law that they say have created "chaos" in the Department of Community Services and failed children in care.

18 private-practice social workers outline concerns in letter to Department of Community Services

Private practice social workers say the 89 amendments to the Children and Family Services Act are for the most part failing families and children. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

A group of social workers in Nova Scotia is taking aim at recent law changes they say are creating "chaos" in the Department of Community Services and failing children in the care of the province.

Eighteen private-practice social workers outlined their concerns with the newly amended Children and Family Services Act in a letter to the department last fall. 

The 89 changes that went into effect last spring were meant to help families before they needed to have their children taken away.

"But you can't take complex legislation in the most complicated trauma situation imaginable — the removal of children — and not add resources," Halifax social worker Jackie Barkley told the CBC's Information Morning.

There's now "enormously increased pressures on the child protection workers themselves," she said. 

Redistribute funds

Lana MacLean, who also works as a social worker in Halifax, said children are spending too much time in transit because they're placed in foster homes far from their communities. 

There's also a lack of culturally specific resources outside the city for African-Nova Scotian and Indigenous children and families, she said.

Social worker Jackie Barkley at a protest in 2015 that urged the province to do more for low-income people. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"Families and children deserve an opportunity to optimize what resources they have and those tool kits are very limited for social workers to have access to," MacLean said. 

She said more funding is needed, but it's also about rearranging the money that's already there.

"I'm curious about what we can do with the resources that are presently available within the system that can be re-visioned and re-tweaked to meet the best interest of the children and families of the province," she said.

Department responds

The concerns have been building ever since the department enacted the changes, but the department's associate deputy minister said there's been 25 years of consultation. 

"I would also say there's a lot of misinformation in the stratosphere about it, and that does actually have the unintended impact of advocating for status quo, which none of us would advocate for," said Nancy MacLellan.

She said the department has introduced 14 front-line positions and two supervisors to help ease the burden for social workers like Barkley and MacLean. 

I would also say there's a lot of misinformation in the stratosphere about it.Nancy MacLellan, associate deputy minister

The amendments also mean more resources for Mi'kmaw and African-Nova Scotian families, according to Leonard Dorion, executive director of Children, Youth and Family Supports for the department. 

"We've actually heard loud and clear from both of those cultural groups that we actually haven't done enough in the past, that they're very receptive to working with us and that they want to hear and be a part of all of the ongoing planning which we have committed to," he said. 

But both MacLean and Barkley say despite years of consultation, the department doesn't seem to be listening.

"The department has designed new legislation, and regardless of our criticisms of that legislation, the current status of the legislation … cannot protect children and it cannot serve the families," said Barkley.

With files from CBC's Information Morning