Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine (November 2015)
Written by Jeff Cottrill, Editor
Safety issues in British Columbia’s social-worker sector have resulted in “no-go zones” throughout the province that aboriginal child-youth and family workers avoid, according to a report from the BC Government and Service employees’ Union (BCGEU).
Published on October 8, 2015, Closing the Circle: A Case for Reinvesting in Aboriginal Child, Youth and Family Services in British Columbia focuses on issues concerning the aboriginal child-welfare system and the province. One section of the 31-page report identifies occupational risk that social workers face when visiting certain communities, usually in isolated areas or in dodgy inter–city neighbourhoods like the East side of Vancouver.
“There are remote areas of the province where the government isn’t particularly welcome, and social workers have experience significant health and safety threats,” says Doug Kinna, VP of BCGEU’s social-information and health component. “They are afraid to go into these areas without police protection.”
The report lists four oh&s issues that aboriginal-community social workers with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) face: exposure to violence from high-risk clients without sufficient protocol or backup; travel to isolated areas with inadequate communication; risk commonly associated with loan work; and risk relating to small communities were clients and workers may know each other.
Kinna explains that aboriginal residents of these areas are often suspicious and distrustful of government employees and assume that the workers are coming to take their children away. “There are huge poverty issues here,” he notes. “Life has kicked them really hard, and they are pretty desperate.”
Stephamie Cadieux, the Minister of Children and Family Development, issued a statement about the report following its release. “I look forward to speaking with the union about this report and their observations,” Cadieux says. “We will take the time we need is a ministry to review the recommendations from Closing the Circle in the context of the other work currently underway.”
Kinna criticizes the Ministry’s past suggestions four safety solutions as ineffective. “MCFD insist there is no such thing as a no-go zone. But they are not properly addressing the issue; they are saying we should keep people safe by cell phones and satellite phones in remote areas,” he says. “A cell phone or sat phone doesn’t really do any good if you are beat up and you can’t make the call.”
Kinna cites a past incident in Campbell River, where a visiting social worker was beaten by a client. Fortunately, the worker managed to dial 911 in time. The ministry also advises social workers to attend calls in pairs – a solution that would work if it were not for severe understaffing, Kinna points out. An ideal situation, he suggests, would be one worker at the door and a back-up waiting by the sidewalk.
No-go zones had been deemed a problem in a previous report from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the British Columbia representative for Children and Youth. This report, Lost in the Shadows: How a Lack of Help Meant a Loss of Hope for One First Nations Girl, examine how a deeply flawed child-protection system had contributed to the suicide of a 14-year-old.
“They need to work out some protocols in remote areas in the province to ensure that social workers are safe,” Kinna says. “It is dangerous.”
Well, 5+ years makes all the difference. We now know that there are nearly 9,000 burial sites on the residential schools thanks to ground-penetrating radar and that explains the panic that most of the indigenous communities when someone comes calling about their children.
The reader can see that it was all about protecting the worker but NOW the story-line has been directed where it belongs, the protection of the Aboriginal children from the government.
It has only been a few decades since the last school was closed. Memories of the missing and beaten will last through the ages.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
CEO & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.