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.

Su­san LeBlanc

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