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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

Sonia Furstenau is correct when she says not having the needed training and education is like ‘hiring more people with basic first-aid skills’ to alleviate the doctor shortage

Yesterday during Question Period in the BC Legislature, Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau noted that in late January of this year, the government had announced changes for workers in the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). Those changes, according to her, meant that social workers in the MCFD would no longer be required to have a social work degree.

Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau
I understand that this ministry faces a challenge in recruiting social workers. It is difficult work. Social workers in the ministry are often faced with unsustainable workload pressures, a highly emotional and draining work setting, and burnout is high. But, surely, lowering standards for such vital work is not the answer. We have a doctor shortage, but I don't hear anyone advocating that the answer just lies in hiring more people with basic first-aid skills”, she stated.

Her question to Katrine Conroy, the Minister for MDFD, was, “Given the vital nature of the work that social workers do and the significant powers that they have, why is it appropriate to lower the professional standards for social workers working in her ministry?”

In response, Conroy stated that, “... many types of knowledge and lived experiences have value and importance, particularly when it comes to front-line work with children and families, and how important it is that ministry staff in B.C. reflect the diversity of communities that they serve”.

That's why we made the changes earlier this year to the credentials and education criteria for front-line workers — not to lower it, but to ensure that the changes we have made open the door for people from a greater diversity of backgrounds to apply for front-line positions for the ministry”.

She then continued, “It also enables us to open the door to a greater diversity of candidates, which is particularly important in Indigenous communities and other areas where recruitment has been difficult”.

Responding, Furstenau was quick to point out a comment from the BCGEU, who had expressed concerns over the proposed changes.

"Expanding the range of professionals working with children and families is one thing. But replacing highly educated and trained social workers with alternative professions is an entirely different manner", she quoted from the employees union.

She then continued saying the BC Association of Social Workers also had concerns, and that they were ... requesting clear protection of title, mandatory registration of social workers with the college, statutory scope of practice and accredited social work education.

“The complex nature of child protection in social work, which includes the ability to enter a home without warrant, requires highly educated and skilled professionals. The lowering of standards is arguably a step backwards to the goal of serving BC's children and families”, said Furstenau.

Continuing, the Green Party MLA made the statement that, “Rather than lowering the standards, why is the minister and this government not focusing on investing in education and creating opportunities to encourage and allow more people, especially Indigenous people, to earn social work degrees so that they can practise to the professional standard that all of us would expect when it comes to the protection of children in this province?” 

Minister of Child and Family
Development Katrine Conroy
Conroy, in speaking to Furstenau, disagreed with those comments however.

I want to correct the member”, she said. “We are not lowering standards. The assessment process remains the same. Applicants are still required to meet the same competencies and must demonstrate equivalent skills and experience before they are even hired”.

Once hired, employees have to take additional training that covers interviewing kids who have been either physically or sexually abused, preparing kids to go to court and other aspects that aren't covered by degree programs”.

It appears, from the comments of Conroy during Question Period yesterday, that on-the-job training will be under direct supervision of an experienced social worker and a supervisor, and employees will also have to complete a six-month probation period that tests the classroom teaching in the real world.

I’m sorry, but I think the safety, protection, and well-being of our youngest and most vulnerable members of society, are worthy of more than watered down standards.

On-the-job training?  After-hiring training and education?  Supervision by experienced staff. 

Not having a degree in social work means that those hired without it will not have the direct training, which up to this point, has been needed for the job. 

Minister Conroy says that ... “front-line social workers have a really important job to do

She’s right – which is why the Green Party’s Sonia Furstenau is also correct when she says not having the needed training and education is like ... hiring more people with basic first-aid skills ... to alleviate the doctor shortage.

Instead, more spaces need to be made available to properly train more workers with the skills and education needed – children in BC deserve nothing less.


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