March 27, 2020
The Honorable Stephen MacNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia
One Government Place
1713 Barrington St
Halifax, NS B3J 2A4
Honourable Kelly Regan, Minister of Community Services
Department of Community Services
8th Floor, Nelson Place
5675 Spring Garden Road
P.O. Box 696
Halifax, NS B3J 2T7
Dr. Rob Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health
17th Floor, Barrington Tower
1894 Barrington St.
P.O. Box 488
Halifax, NS B3J 2R8
Re: Protecting vulnerable children and youth during COVID-19 pandemic
Dear Premier MacNeil, Minister Regan and Dr. Strang,
The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, like many in our province, is particularly concerned about vulnerable children and youth during this time of crisis. We are asking that the province implement the following steps to ensure that vulnerable children, youth and their families are protected throughout these unsettling times.
- Ensure the Department of Community Services website is up to date with all COVID-19 news and with details on what program service providers and users can expect from the department;
- expedite the return of children to parents where there is already a plan in the works to return the child to the parent;
- the province pays any and all emergency or enhanced Canada Child Benefits (CCB) and work with the federal government so the province recoups this cost and this burden is not placed on vulnerable families, to be without this crucial income;
- place a moratorium on youth aging out of care while we are in this state emergency;
- for families who are accessing income assistance, dispense with the board rate and increase the Standard Household Rate (SHR) to ensure families receive 100% of the Market Basket Measure (MBM) for poverty (inclusive of other income supports);
- expand the current COVID-19 eviction policy into a moratorium on all applications for vacant possession of residential premises and a halt on all pending eviction orders until at least June 1, 2020; and
- provide short-term motel stays to everyone on the priority access waiting list for public housing.
We want to make sure that during this unsettling time the province is doing everything in its power to ensure that children and youth are maintaining important bonds and attachment with their parents, that vulnerable families have the resources they need to self-isolate and practice social distancing and that social workers have the tools to provide the professional care to vulnerable children, youth and families in their time of great need.
We believe that in this moment of need we must expedite the return of children to parents where there is already a plan in the works to return the child to the parent. This should be expedited as much as possible to avoid loss of parent-child bonding that cannot be done through virtual means – especially for children under the age of five. When this is not possible, the province must uphold the rights of parents with children in temporary care and custody to maintain access visits by putting the infrastructure in place to facilitate online meetings and programs. As this is happening we need to ensure that the province pay any and all emergency or enhanced CCBs and to work with the federal government so that province recoups this cost and this burden is not placed on vulnerable families. We also call for a moratorium on youth aging out of care while we are in this state of emergency.
Given that safety and case plans are shifting as support programs close doors and staff at DCS practice social distancing, we must look to other tools to ensure that families are safe. Income is one of the core tools that we know has an impact on health and wellness of families. For families who are accessing income assistance we must dispense with the board rate and increase the SHR to ensure all families receiving Income Assistance receive 100% of the MBM for poverty (inclusive of other income supports). In addition, the province needs to rescind work search and monthly income reporting requirements for this process. It is also imperative that the province commit to not clawing back the federal Emergency Care Benefit, the Emergency Support Benefit and stop the current practice of clawing back Employment Insurance from those who supplement income assistance with employment income.
We must make sure that vulnerable children, youth and their families have safe housing during this crisis. Expanding the current COVID-19 eviction policy into a moratorium on all applications for vacant possession of residential premises and a halt on all pending eviction orders until at least June 1, 2020, would help to ensure this. In addition, in the current crisis we must restore rent control in Nova Scotia by issuing an order-in-council to eliminate the exemption of all classes of residential premises from the Rent Review Act. Further to this we must provide short-term motel stays to everyone on the priority access waiting list for public housing.
We know that the government is doing its very best to contain the spread of COVID-19. At this moment we encourage the government to ensure they are applying an intersectional lens, recognizing that we are a very unequal society and that capacity of those with privilege and power is different than of those who are marginalized and oppressed. We must ensure that decisions are reflective of the unique needs of vulnerable Nova Scotians.
Alec Stratford, MSW, RSW
Nova Scotia College of Social Workers