Posted on Nov 21, 2016
Children in Care
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I stand today to support the many calls from both sides of the floor to take this situation as an emergency and to respond to it with all of our integrity, with all of our heart, with all of our desire.
But I've got to tell you that as a social worker for 34 years in this province, with a specialization in the area of child sexual abuse and neglect, having worked for the government in child welfare, having worked in private practice for many years working with children who have been sexually abused, having done the research study on the incidence of child abuse and neglect in the province of Alberta over the last three terms, that has been repeated, having been involved in this issue as somebody standing on the front steps of this Legislature, I absolutely have to express my frustration at the things I hear coming from across the floor, in the last speech particularly.You know, I have been committed to this issue since I was a young pup just out of my first social work degree, in 1982, and I have devoted my whole life to making sure that the children of this province get the best care that they possibly can. When I hear comments like, “Children are moved from one house to another because the front-line workers don't care,” I can't tell you the depth of concern and anger I feel that that kind of accusation would be made, that that's the level of analysis of this situation that is going on.
It's absolutely incredible to me that you can take a look at a situation and so narrowly focus on one activity without any kind of estimation of the context of why that's happened, why this system has been a failure for so many years. I was a child welfare worker in 1982, and I can tell you that I started organizations back then dealing with front-line workers to resolve these kinds of issues. You know who it was who always repressed and stopped us from moving forward on the actions that we needed? It was the rightwing parties of this province. That's who it was. That's why I was standing on the front steps of this Legislature protesting along with thousands of other workers while there were cutbacks going on.
You talk about the fact that there's an ideology problem here. I can tell you that you're damn right. Sorry. I apologize and withdraw that. You are right. There is an ideology problem. I can tell you that it was the right wing of this government that took the Child Welfare Act and removed the words at the front of that Child Welfare Act that said that the act is to be concerned about the best interests of the child and replaced them with an act dedicated to the preservation of the family. That was ideology, and that came from the right wing of this province. That did not come from the front-line child welfare workers, who protested those kinds of behaviours and who said: “Do you want to know what the real problem is? The real problem is that there are structural reasons why people live in poverty. There are structural reasons why people commit acts, horrendous acts, of child abuse and neglect.”
The right wing always, every time, votes against doing something about that, and we're tired of that all the time. They stand up and ask for individual things for their individual constituencies, but when we say, “The issue is structural; we have to change how this society works,” they're never there for it. When we say, “We need after school care, we need food programs in the schools, we need child care that's affordable for everyday people,” are they there saying, “We would like to vote for an increase in the budget for child welfare, we would like to vote for an increase in the budget for education, we would like to vote for an increase in health care”?
Do we ever hear that? We do not because they keep their focus narrow. Some individual has committed a horrendous act, and that's all we can talk about.
There's a death that's been caused by one horrendous person, and we all feel that tragedy. I know that they feel that tragedy. I feel that tragedy – I feel it in sadness; I feel it in rage – but then I do something about it. I go out and analyze the system. I use my brain to look at: how has that happened? In my PhD research I can tell you that we looked at what happens that causes a child who is raised in an abusive situation to become an abuser themselves. I can tell you what happens. It's the lack of appropriate interventions, the lack of opportunity, the lack of structural change. As soon as we start to impose those kind of things in a child's life, we provide structural invitations for success. We make sure they have opportunities for loving, caring people outside of their family in daycares, in school systems, in hospital systems. We see a drop in that child abuse and neglect. So what do we do? We come into the House, and we vote for improvements to those systems – health care, social services, education – because we actually don't want children to die. That's why we do it.
I get really tired of individual workers being blamed. I get tired of people being told that they don't care. I tell you what. I can tell you that we care in a way that does not only include our hearts, but it includes our brains, where we look at the research, we follow up the practice that's done in the community, and we look at the issues.
Right now this child is a child who died on a reserve in this province. One of the primary issues has been brought to the Human Rights Commission at the national level, and they have said that the issue is that it's been neglected financially. That's what they said. They said that the amount of money put into the child welfare systems on reserves is between half and two-thirds of what is being put into child welfare systems in the provinces. That is a human rights violation. If you're not voting for more money for children on-reserve, then I really have to ask: what is it that you see when you read that Human Rights Commission result that tells you that it doesn't matter whether they get those services, that it doesn't matter whether they get things, that we just now have to be sunshine and rosy and treat our children better? I'm not putting up with that happy-go-lucky kind of “we'll just be nice people” anymore. I want to be determined people. I want to be people who will put our money where our mouth is because that's how the system works. If you don't put money into it, it's not going to get better.
You want a better system? You stop hiring people when they come out of their BSW or, worse, with no social work training at all coming out of a geology degree and turning them into a child welfare worker at the age of 22. If you want a better system, you start hiring them at 30, and you pay them twice as much because they've got life experience and they've got training that says that they're going to do a better job. Then you give them 10 families, not 30 families, and you say: “We want you to actually fix things with those families. We want you to develop a relationship. We want you to understand the families, the support systems, and the socioeconomic situation that we are in. We want you to change all of that.
You know what I'm going to do to make sure that you can do that right? I'm going to provide you with the resources you need. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to pay you what you're worth. I'm going to give you the money so that you can put those kids into Boy Scouts and hockey and art classes so that they can live the life that we want all of our children to live. I'm going to do that because I care.”
And I do care. If I get told one more time that I don't care, I am going to ask that person how much they have done over the last 34 years, how many kids they have seen who came in their door when they were six years old who were sexually abused because they lived in a house with 12 people and there were bedrooms only for six. That's what I want to ask them. What did they do about the housing on reserves? What did they do about the fact that we don't have water on-reserve? What did they do about the fact that the teachers on-reserve are underfunded compared to teachers off reserve?
What do we do about the fact that child welfare workers are not funded? What are you doing about the real issues, not the ones that break your heart but the ones that you understand from your analysis of reading the literature or working with the people in the community and figuring out where the pressures are, where the problems are? Have you done that work? Then you come to me and you tell me I don't care, but until then I don't want to hear that I don't care.