Comment: Ministry is taking wrong approach with social worker qualifications

The crisis in child welfare is being perpetuated through the current approach by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Rather than moving toward a professional approach, the ministry has refused to remove an exemption to the Social Workers Act, meaning that social workers in that ministry are exempt from requiring registration with the B.C. College of Social Workers.

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The minister has, in fact, expanded the educational qualifications for child protection “social workers” to include a range of academic degrees, including undergraduate degrees in psychology, sociology, anthropology and theology.

This approach will not contribute to the field of child welfare, which is very much in need of significant enhancement and professionalization. All legitimate professions have accountability mechanisms to protect their consumers from preventable harm.

Social workers in health and other areas are required to be registered with the College of Social Workers and must abide by their Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

In the 1995 Gove Inquiry into Child Protection. Justice Thomas Gove wanted to enhance the development of a strong and accountable profession of social work. He recommended that primary responsibility for the professional integrity of social workers be assigned to a professional regulatory body: “Social Workers should be regulated by a self-governing professional body ... with a legislative mandate.”

This body exists but MCFD social workers are not required to be registered. This is not defensible.

Many years ago, I attended a meeting with a new deputy minister in the child welfare ministry. He came from the Ministry of Education. He said his first concern was that social work lacked a professional identity such as teachers in his former ministry.

I was hopeful that change would come but this deputy minister soon retired. His concern still exists to this day.

There are about 10 accredited social- work programs throughout the province. There should not be a need to hire non-social workers to provide social-work services to vulnerable populations.

Matters like this rarely get public attention. Consumers of child welfare are often rarely equipped to advocate for better services. Professionals in the system are not encouraged to speak out.

My hope is the ministry will listen carefully to the B.C. Association of Social Workers and the B.C. College of Social Workers, and move toward a professional approach to service with full external accountability. It is time.

Eric Jones, BA, BSW, MSW, worked in all areas of social work in three provinces and with the B.C. Ombudsperson Child and Youth Team, was director complaint resolution at the Children’s Commission, and on the management team of the Gove Inquiry into Child Protection.

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