The Department of Community Services recently conducted a mandatory review of the Children and Family Services Act (CFSA). The NSCSW was consulted on this matter and followed up the consultation with a written submission. The NSCSW is publicly releasing its submission, as it believes that under its mandate in the Social Workers Act it is compelled to do so.
The Department of Community Services chose to conduct their review in a manner that both limited the scope and engagement process, and excluded core stakeholders such as frontline staff, families involved in the system, and children and youth in care. As such, the CFSA Review Committee chose three of the least problematic areas of the Act that focused on:
- Section 25: Duty to report third party abuse to ensure that the intended reporting duty is appropriately captured and any potential changes that could be made;
- Section 94: Prohibition on publications to determine whether there should be discretion for the Minister or the Court to publish information in exceptional circumstances; and
- Section 63 – 66: Child abuse register to explore if the legislation is effective in keeping children and the community safe.
The challenges that have emerged in the provision of services to vulnerable children and families through the amended Act have remained far too problematic for such a narrow review. The lack of public engagement also seems counter to the current political climate.
Given the narrow scope, the NSCSW has chosen to provide a more comprehensive review of the Act (although still limited, due to a lack of available data), and evaluate the Act through the lens of the Social Policy Framework created last year in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia Office (CCPA-NS).
The Social Policy Framework was designed to support the development and evaluation of social policy through a set of ten principles that have been researched and designed to create a more equitable and fairer Nova Scotia. Utilizing this framework, our submission assessed the impact of the Act and how it has contributed to creating greater inequality and inequity, further marginalizing vulnerable children and youth. This submission did not make recommendations on how to improve the Act, but rather it laid groundwork for NSCSW to do so in a future policy paper.
The NSCSW mandate is to serve and protect the public interest; to preserve the integrity of the social-work profession; and to advocate for the development, enhancement and promotion of policies to improve social conditions and promote social justice. We feel that in order to live up to the expectations of this mandate there needs to be a public record of our actions regarding the CFSA review. In addition, the NSCSW’s strategic plan has committed us to being responsible, accountable and transparent. We believe that to achieve this strategic objective, members need to have an opportunity to review our submission and provide feedback. Finally, our Social Policy Framework promotes the principle of democratization and calls on governments to engage with communities to shape public policy. Communities must have as much information as possible to provide public feedback, and we believe our submission will add to that process.
The NSCSW has been working with Department of Community Services to address many of the core issues outlined in this submission. We welcome this open and honest dialogue and are hopeful that it will lead to change. It is our hope that with the release of this submission our political decision-makers will see the clear need for a fundamental shift in the delivery of child welfare and provide the Department of Community Services with the resources to implement core changes.