NSWM: What social work looks like

What better way to begin social work month than by celebrating two new social work programs in Nova Scotia. To our friends at Cape Breton University, we know this new program rooted in trauma informed care and contextualized to Cape Breton will be a huge benefit to all Nova Scotians. We are equally proud and thrilled for our partners at the Dalhousie School of Social Work who also announced their Africentric Social Work program at the end of January. Both programs will add greater diversity to the profession in Nova Scotia, a crucial component of the fight for justice. We are thrilled for all of those who were involved in their creation.

As we look at the year behind us and the opportunities in front of us our theme for National Social Work Month resonates strongly. Social work is essential and positioned to identify and fill systemic gaps, provide key services and programs, and connect communities to what they need, all while applying our skills to build a more just world. We are so proud of our members, and recognize and celebrate the invaluable contributions of social workers in supporting health, mental health and child and family well-being across complex systems and settings.

In our fight for justice, hope is an important beacon for communities and ourselves. With the multiple crises of cost of living, housing, health care, deep racial inequity and the climate crisis, being hopeful when there is so much despair is perhaps too much of an ask. However, there are clear indications that when we work in solidarity with our communities, social change does happen.

Along with the achievements of CBU and Dalhousie to create more opportunities for greater racial justice in the provision of social work, this year also brings with it three big advocacy wins that members, the College and our policy partners have been fighting for, and that truly speak to the value that social work brings to the province.

First in the coming weeks we will see the tabling of legislation to create a child and youth commission which will hold the same powers as advocate offices across Canada. Child and youth advocate offices have played a crucial role in the protection and provision of services to vulnerable children and youth. Social workers have worked hard to ensure that children and youth in Nova Scotia are not left vulnerable to the failings and abuses of state power and have pushed for the establishment of a legislated child and youth rights-based organization whose primary focus is to advocate, report and make recommendations to address failures of policy. Over the past five years our members, the college and our partners have had a laser focus on campaigning, engaging with media, providing education to the public, working with researchers, and meeting with MLAs. I had the distinct privilege of working with the government to create the final recommendations to the Minister on governance and operations of the office, and look forward to its creation.

Second, on March 1 the Government of Nova Scotia announced the creation of a new Family Stability Payment. This payment is intended to fill the gaps created by federal regulation that find parents ineligible for the Canada Child Benefit after their children have been placed in the temporary care and custody of the Minister of Community Services. Child welfare social workers, the College and community advocates have been pushing for this change for the last six years as it has caused undue financial strain and acute financial instability for affected families. Concerted strategic efforts utilizing research, media, and focus on creating pressure from both inside and outside the system led to this crucial victory and the first payment of its kind in Canada. This is what social work practice looks like, and I am so proud of what we have achieved together.

Finally, the Department of Community Services has announced that is moving forward with core changes to finally provide a long overdue practice framework for child welfare, one that focuses on well-being and strengths, rather than surveillance and punishment. This was achieved through concerted efforts internal to DCS with the NSGEU and labour management committees made up of social workers, community meetings and College pressure to change the delivery of child welfare services to align with social work values. The Department of Community Services has confirmed that the new framework will empower social workers to advocate for their clients and senior leadership at DCS has confirmed that advocacy will no longer be ostracized from the provision of child protections services. The fight for a system that truly works for child and family well-being is far from over, this marks a significant shift in government policy

As I reflect on what social work has achieved in this province I am filled with immense pride, and I hope you share in it. I know that this is just the beginning of what we can achieve together.  I often utilize and reflect on this quote, but I think it shines through with such wisdom in our current political state.

“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”

― Howard Zinn

Enjoy your social work month!

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar