N.S. social workers suffering burnout, NDP says
NDP Community Services critic Susan LeBlanc says recent statistics on social worker burnout are troubling for the workers themselves and their clients.
Social workers in Nova Scotia are facing a burnout crisis, the NDP claims. The party obtained data on sick leave, short-term illness hours and long-term disability cases among workers in Child Protection and Child Youth and Family Services from 2013 to 2017 through a freedom of information request. They also got statistics on the number of child protection services referrals for the same time frame.
The NDP released the documents on Monday.
The most dramatic increase was in short-term illness hours, including related hours and “easeback” hours, incurred yearly. The documents show short-term illness hours rose from 16,513 in the fiscal year 2013-14 to 26,105 in 2016-17, an increase of nearly 10,000 hours. The total number of child protection referrals increased over that time from 10,078 to 11,028 per year.
Susan Leblanc, the NDP Community Services critic, said the statistics are concerning for both the well-being of the social workers themselves and for the people they are working with.
“It indicates that the people who are the most vulnerable in the province, who need the help of social workers, are not able to get the services or the help they need,” she said. “It puts people at risk and it puts children at risk.”
The NDP suggest recent changes to the Children and Family Services Act may be having an effect. According to the N.S. Department of Community Services website, changes that started to be implemented in March include enabling intervention to be made at an earlier age, streamlining court processes, extending services for youth ages 16-18 if the teen is willing, requiring professionals to report suspected abuse, permitting a social worker to interview a child without parental consent, and emphasizing the importance of a child’s culture.
Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, said the statistics reflect a system that is not supportive of the workers in it and which has a huge impact on the families they are trying to serve, especially those living in poverty.
“Accessible housing, transformation of income assistance — which we know is inadequate — greater community supports for families who are in higher need, access to daycare, access to food security . . . It’s these broader structural issues that have the impact on the overall wellness of the family,” he said.
“It’s a very complex system, particularly when you’re dealing with issues of neglect, family violence, addictions and mental health, which all compile themselves around the bigger issue of poverty in Nova Scotia,” he said.
“It becomes very hard to be able to negotiate these systems, serve your families well, as well as take care and stay well yourself, which is what these stats that the NDP released today are reflecting.”
The Department of Community Services responded with an emailed statement.
“We have a responsibility to protect Nova Scotia’s children from neglect and abuse and we take that responsibility very seriously,” spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn wrote on behalf of the department.