Dozens of Ministry of Children and Family Development employees are rallying in Vancouver, demanding higher wages and proper training for social workers in Vancouver. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

VIDEO: Social workers demand better workplace conditions from B.C. government

Ministry of Children and Family Development employees rally for higher wages, proper training

Dozens of Ministry of Children and Family Development employees came out to demand higher wages and proper training for B.C. social workers in Vancouver Tuesday.

Employees’ main demands are that the government address wage concerns, a lack of backfill and proper training for frontline social workers in the ministry.

According to BCGEU vice-president of social, information and health Doug Kinna, those recommendations were in Bob Plecas’ 2015 review of child welfare in B.C. The report found that the province’s child welfare system lacks accountability, proper staffing levels, training, and funding.

Kinna said wages for social workers in the province are 11 per cent below the national average, making worker retention all but impossible.

“They’ve hired 100 front line workers in the past year and when you look at their staffing numbers they’ve had a net increase of two,” said Kinna.

“Are they creating a top down headquarters heavy bureaucracy?”

A statement from children and family development minister Stephanie Cadieux said that their budget “the ministry’s budget for this fiscal year has increased by $144.8 million to almost $1.6 billion.”

Cadieux said that the funding would be used to add more front line staff, both at the ministry and in First Nation communities over the next three years. Some administrative tasks have also been taken off social workers’ plates to allow them to focus on their clients, the ministry statement said.

According to Kinna, B.C. social workers make on an average of $36-37 per hours – putting them eighth in the country. He said that while the province listened to Plecas’ recommendations and upped wages for hard to recruit areas, they have refused to lift the base salary province-wide.

“You get an extra $6,000 for living in a remote community in British Columbia but if you go to another province you can live in a large, urban centre and make way more that $6,000 a year extra,” said Kinna.

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Melanie Mark said that the entire culture at the ministry needs to change.

“If staff aren’t trained to have an inherent belief that children have the right to be with their family first then it doesn’t matter how many staff you have on the frontline,” said Mark, who is the NDP critic for children and family development.

A family-first approach, Mark said, was missing in the case of Alex Gervais. Then then-18-year-old Metis youth died after falling through a fourth-floor window at an Abbotsford hotel in 2015.

READ: Alex Gervais’ death a suicide, says BC Coroners Service

The BC Coroners service ruled his death a suicide and a 2017 report found that Gervais had suffered years of instability and neglect, a lack of permanent housing, and a disconnect from his Metis culture in the years before his death.

READ: Alex Gervais died alone after years of instability, neglect: Child advocate report

The province has not yet responded to requests for comment.

More to come.

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