Sunday, July 19, 2009

Broken Child Welfare System Will Sustain even More Job Cuts

The cuts to frontline social workers has also begun. The BCGEU announced 6 Child Protection Social Work jobs will be slashed in the NorthWest (Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert).

I understand there may be cuts to positions in other regions as well and MCFD is transferring positions (FTE's) to Aboriginal agencies.


Child welfare report points to broken system, say social workers

Garrett Zehr. The Hook/ July 17, 2009.

VANCOUVER - A recent report revealing high levels of critical injury and death of children and youth under the watch of the B.C. government highlights a system that is understaffed and inadequately funded, says the province's social work association.

“The system is in absolute crisis and this has been coming for some time,” said Tracey Young, chair of the Child Welfare and Family Committee for the B.C. Association of Social Workers.

The report from the province’s Representative for Children and Youth found 49 critical injuries and 30 deaths of children in provincial care or receiving reviewable services over a four-month period ending May 31.

Twenty-six of the injury cases and 12 of the deaths are being investigated by the representative’s office to determine any role played by the welfare system.

“Unfortunately I’m not terribly surprised that children are not faring well at this point in time in B.C.,” said Young.

Child advocates and social workers have been telling the government for years that the child welfare system is understaffed, she said.

“There are mistakes that are made, there are tragedies that occur, because people are absolutely just taxed to their limit.”

The problems include offices that are often extremely short-staffed and a lack of backfill for people on vacation or medical leave, she said, which all create huge gaps in service provision. “These are not expendable roles in our society or province.”

Young acknowledged that the rate of injury and death of children in government care is higher because of the increased fragile health of these children when entering the system.

But she said this only emphasizes the need for a comprehensive plan from the provincial government to combat poverty, since the vast majority of child protection cases are related to family-poverty issues.

These systemic problems are often forgotten and ignored, Young said, with social workers then being unfairly scapegoated by the public.

“It’s really, really easy -- and I find particularly in this area of child protection and child welfare -- to want to blame somebody,” she said.

“But [social workers] work within this vast underfunded system and they are trying their best each day.”

She said the association lauds the work of the Representative for Children and Youth and is calling on the provincial government to provide even greater accountability and transparency on child welfare issues.

“When tragedies occur, a healthy, responsible system will use that to look at what went wrong and what went right, instead of 'how do we fix the optics of this,'” she said.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.


Systemic Improvements Are Required to Decrease Critical Injuries and Death’s of BC’s Young People - the BC Government Must Act Now


The latest report from the Representative for Children and Youth reveals that there were 49 critical injuries and 30 deaths of BC children and youth who were in care or receiving MCFD services between February 1, 2009 and May 31, 2009.

We commend the Representative and her staff for their commitment to bringing transparency, visibility and recognition to the lives, injuries and deaths of our most vulnerable young people. Their injury or loss is a tragedy for them, their families, communities and to all of us. We will never know what kind of contributions these citizens could have made had they been better supported, protected and enabled to reach their potential.

As the Representative notes, in spite of a focus in recent years on children in care who died, her office has not detected any significant reduction in deaths.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development continues to suffer from gross underfunding and is failing to adequately and safely staff its frontlines with social workers who can make a real difference in the lives of at risk young people and their families. It is also very discouraging to learn that the BC government may be looking for cost cutting measures by slashing budgets of community social service agencies. These structural deficiencies impede the child welfare system from meeting its core mandate – protecting and increasing the safety and well being of at risk children and youth in British Columbia.

With more and more families being plunged into poverty and struggling to meet the basic necessities of life, it is time for the BC government to offer strategic, solution-focused, timely intervention and to adequately fund child and family serving systems. Other jurisdictions, most notably Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador, Ontario and Manitoba have shown strong leadership in introducing strategies to reduce child and family poverty and improve circumstances that arise out of systemic conditions of vulnerability and risk. This kind of progressive vision and leadership and commitment to BC’s children and families is what is required in BC right now.

As the BC government continues to prepare for its September 2009 budget we strongly encourage them to demonstrate compassionate, progressive and caring leadership and commit to improvements to the social infrastructure in BC. Social workers, along with all our fellow citizens, must continue to press our elected representatives to make the investment in BC’s children, youth and families a priority.


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW

Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee

BC Association of Social Workers


Linda Korbin, MSW, RSW
Executive Director

402 - 1755 West Broadway
Vancouver BC V6J 4S5
T 604 730 9111/ F 604 730 9112
Toll free in BC 1 800 665 4747

30 Deaths of Children Under Watch of Province in Four Months
Ann Hui, Times Colonist.
July 11, 2009.

B.C.'s Office of Representatives for Children and Youth released a report this week revealing that in the past four months, 30 children or youth died and 49 suffered critical injuries while they were either in the care of, or receiving services from, B.C.'s child welfare system.

Job Cuts on the Way: Unions
John Bermingham, The Province. July 16, 2009.

Darryl Walker, president of the 60,000-member B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, said he’s already heard of hundreds of eliminated positions in a range of government ministries.

Budget-linked layoffs hit child protection workers in North West B.C.
B.C. Government and Service Employees Union. Jul 16 '09.
Representative for Children and Youth

Representative's Report #6 - Critical Injuries and Deaths: Reviews and Investigations

RCY reviews and investigations of critical injuries or child deaths from February 1, 2009 to May 31, 2009.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Youth Alcohol Use Associated with Mental Health Issues

Teens' Drinking Linked to Mental Health Problems
Amy Norton, Reuters. Vancouver Sun.

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers who drink heavily are also more likely than their peers to have behavioural problems or symptoms of depression and anxiety, a new study finds.

The study, of nearly 9,000 Norwegian teenagers, found that those who said they had been drunk more than 10 times in their lives were more likely to have attention and conduct problems in school. Meanwhile, heavy-drinking girls showed higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms.

The findings, published in the online journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, are based on a one-time survey. They do not, therefore, show whether the drinking came before or after the teenagers' other problems.

"We can say that mental health problems (are) closely connected to alcohol drinking and intoxication, but we cannot from these data say anything about which comes first," explained lead researcher Dr. Arve Strandheim, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

That said, conduct and attention problems do tend to develop early in childhood, and would be less likely to arise in adolescence, Strandheim told Reuters Health.

But regardless of whether drinking problems or other issues come first, the bottom line is that parents should be aware that they often go hand-in-hand, according to the researcher.

The findings are based on a survey of 8,983 13- to 19-year-olds. Eighty percent said they had tried drinking, while 57 percent had gotten drunk at least once.

Among teens who said they had attention problems at school, roughly 43 percent had been drunk more than 10 times -- versus 25 percent of those with little difficulty concentrating in class.

Similarly, 35 percent of teenagers who acknowledged conduct problems -- getting into fights or clashing with teachers -- also admitted to getting drunk frequently. That compared with roughly 27 percent of teens with few conduct problems.

Anxiety and depression symptoms were also linked to more-frequent drinking binges, but only among girls.

It's important to intervene early to keep all teenagers from abusing alcohol, Strandheim stressed. However, the researcher said, it may be particularly important to pay attention to girls with signs of depression or anxiety, and all teens with attention problems or behaviour issues.

SOURCE: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, online June 23, 2009.

Alcohol intoxication and mental health among adolescents – a population review of 8983 young people, 13–19 years in North-Tr√łndelag, Norway: the Young-HUNT Study
Arve Strandheim, Turid Lingaas Holmen, Lindsey Coombes, Niels Bentzen
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2009, 3:18 (23 June 2009)
[Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [PubMed] [Related articles]

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cuts Ahead for Social Service Agencies?

Social service agency budgets could get axed
Sean Holman, Public Eye Online, July 09, 2009.

The provincial government could be putting discretionary grants to social service agencies on the chopping block. Speaking with reporters today, Finance Minister Colin Hansen acknowledged discretionary grants could be "impacted" by the government's effort to find $1.9 billion in administrative efficiencies over three years. Asked whether grants "impacted" would include those allocated to social service agencies, the minister said, "We're going through all the discretionary grants line-by-line. In some cases, you've got organizations that may be doing great work. But then you realize it's a duplication of what somebody else is doing. So let's find ways to get those groups working together that reduces the administrative cost of delivering that front-line service."

"There are cases where we've identified that there might be dollars going out the door to an organization when, in fact, those services should be provided by front-line government workers. So we're not looking at it from the perspective of whoever has been funded in the past should get funded in the future. We're saying how best can we deliver those services in the most cost-effective way. And I can tell you, just in the last month and a half, there has been many, many, many hours sitting in committee literally going through line by line and you wind up with something that's $5,000. And somebody says, 'Well, it's only $5,000.' And I say, 'No, no. It is $5,000.' It's been a pretty intense process as we've gone through this."

Posted by Sean Holman at 01:55 PM
Permanent link


Great comment from Dawn Steele:

Mr Hansen is absolutely right to scrutinize every $5,000 grant going out to outside contractors, agencies and groups. The first lens needs to be: is a legitimate benefit being provided and can someone else do a better job for the same or less vs. just assuming that past practice or the right connections are all the validation you need.

But I think he will find, at least from my experience in community living, that most of the non-profits currently funded by government to provide essential services like housing and caring for people who can't live independently, are doing so for far less cost than government could even dream of ever matching (and yes, that's partly because many are forced to seek out non-union staff or rely on volunteers to make ends meet, and partly because they do private fundraising to subsidize the cost of operations).

The second lens needs to be: is the benefit meeting a valid need; is it adequate, excessive or not enough; and is it more or less important than other needs going unmet. This decision is based on social judgement and thus requires full transparency to ensure it meets public expectations. In undertaking such an exercise, govt needs to be prepared to acknowledge that in some cases, perhaps many, the funding is woefully inadequate and needs to be augmented, not cut.

But before the Finance Minister even starts thinking about the value provided by government-supported community agencies or cutting vital front-line services provided to ordinary British Columbians in need (health care, education and social services), he must first put his own house in order. And he should start by seriously reconsidering whether BC can afford the appalling salary increases given to MLAs, Ministers and senior bureaucrats, the shocking waste represented by untendered contracts to all those well-connected but grossly overpaid "consultants," or the extraordinarily skewed priorities represented by the gross over-funding of political functions such as the Public Affairs Bureau and government advertising.

Viewed through the second lens above, I doubt you'd find many British Columbians who would agree that outrageous salary increases for MLAs and top bureaucrats, multi-million dollar ad campaigns telling us we're the best place on earth, or the recently-revealed $275/hour contract to a friend of the MCFD Deputy, should stay in place while we continue to deny special education services and early intervention therapy to kids with special needs or cut programs like respite care, which allows families to support challenging individuals at home instead of giving them up into hugely costly government care.

Posted by dawn steele on July 10, 2009 11:08 AM

Monday, July 6, 2009

Potential Impacts of Maternal Stress in Pregnancy

All the more reason we should be offering excellent pre- and ante-natal supports and services to mothers, especially those who are at higher risk of stress, anxiety & challenges in their lives (Ie. poverty, poor housing, abuse, domestic violence, isolation etc.). It's no wonder pregnant and parenting moms and fathers experience more stress and anxiety with the isolation of modern families, natural supports are often just not there anymore as families are scattered around.

Stress During Pregnancy May Lower Baby's IQ

Severe prenatal stress may damage a baby's brain and put the child at greater risk of anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to a new study

Zosia Bielski, Globe & Mail.

Severe stress during pregnancy can damage a baby's brain and put the child at greater risk of anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder later on in adolescence, according to British research revealed last week.

The higher the levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – in the womb, the lower the toddler's “baby IQ” at 18 months, the researchers found.

“We found that if the mother was more stressed while she was pregnant the baby scored significantly lower on the mental developmental index,” said Vivette Glover, lead researcher and professor of prenatal psychobiology at Imperial College London.

The study involved 250 women at 17 weeks gestation. They filled out questionnaires about their anxiety levels and the researchers monitored their cortisol levels and the amount seeping into their amniotic fluid.

Cortisol is naturally elevated during pregnancy, and rises again before a mother gives birth. Normally, the placenta protects the unborn baby from cortisol by producing an enzyme that breaks it down but the enzyme works less efficiently when the mother is stressed out.

The more anxious a mother was, the more cortisol appeared in her amniotic fluid, the researchers found.

Next, they will examine the children's brains using MRI scans; the oldest child is now six years old.

Experiments on pregnant primates have shown that stress can shrink a fetus's hippocampus by 30 per cent. The hippocampus plays an important role in memory, learning and emotional development. Maternal anxiety also affects other areas of the fetal brain, including the corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres, and the amygdala, which regulates our response to fear.

Canadian research is corroborating the British findings.

“If there's anything that we all agree on, it's that the fetus is incredibly vulnerable and fragile, and that even subtle perturbations in the mother's mood or her objective circumstances can have measurable effects on the fetus that last for years,” said Suzanne King, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University.

Prof. King looks at stress, natural disasters and pregnant women. She studied 140 children born after the Quebec ice storm of 1998. Toddlers whose mothers felt severely anxious about that winter's hardships scored 15 IQ points lower than other local children, whose mothers experienced less stress and adversity in that period.

“That difference has been fairly well maintained through 81/2 years,” said Prof. King.

She is now looking at the children's brain structures, and also separately studying 310 Iowa women who fell victim to the 2008 flooding.

“The end goal of our research is to be able to tell public-safety officials which women and their fetuses are especially vulnerable,” Prof. King said.

The British researchers are also pushing for more professional support.

“In the developed world, the physical care of pregnant women is pretty good, but the emotional care is very, very lacking,” Prof. Glover said.

“We need to be finding out about the emotional state of women in pregnancy, whether they're anxious, depressed or having problems with relationships with a partner, and then providing appropriate help.”

The researchers also called out fathers: Prof. Glover said that 25 per cent of 125 respondents complained about emotional abuse from their partners.

“If women, while pregnant, said that their partner was emotionally cruel to them … that provided the kind of stress that related to lower baby IQ and to more anxiety in the child,” Prof. Glover said.

She added that fathers sometimes feel excluded during pregnancy, and exhorted the protective role instead: “Fathers can help the development of their child right from when they're in the womb.”

The researchers mounted their findings at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition last week.

Visitors played a game that showed how a mother's stress can increase the heart rate of her unborn baby. They also got to touch a real placenta, encased safely in plastic.