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Glen Abernethy – Improvements In The Delivery Of Child And Family Services

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to speak on the topic of child and family services.  The 16th Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Programs undertook a comprehensive review of the Child and Family Services Act, highlighting the importance of this area and the need for fundamental change in how we do business.

While there will always be room for improvement in child and family services, I am pleased to be able to report to this Assembly some significant progress arising from the Standing Committee recommendations.  But first I want to pay tribute to the Social Workers who provide child and family services.  Theirs is undoubtedly one of the most demanding jobs in the public service.  As the Dean of the University of Calgary’s faculty of social work said recently, “There are lots of reasons why children need protection, such as physical and sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment, addictions issues, poverty and homelessness.  The social worker has to make sense out of all these pieces, and that’s incredibly complicated, sensitive and difficult to do.”

The sad fact is that there are children out there who are in need of protection.    We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that this happens – government, communities and families.  But it is the dedicated women and men who deliver on that responsibility who make extraordinarily difficult decisions on a daily basis, and they desperately need and deserve the support of the communities in which they live and work.

Mr. Speaker, our efforts to protect children from harm begin with promotion and prevention.  In its report on the review of the Child and Family Services Act, the 16th Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Programs flagged some key recommendations, which formed the foundation for all subsequent recommendations.  In addition to highlighting the importance of prevention and promotion, these focused on setting up Child and Family Services Committees, making sure that alcohol and drug addictions treatment is readily available, and developing a comprehensive Anti-Poverty Strategy.

One of the cornerstones of prevention and promotion is the Healthy Family Program, which by the end of this fiscal year will have expanded to all regions and will be available in 15 of our communities.  The Healthy Family Program is designed to support parents and children from birth to age five, and promotes nurturing parent-child relationships.  The program is a key component of the renewed Early Childhood Development Framework, and is a foundational program for child and family services.  The 2014-2015 Main Estimates include $700,000 to stabilize and enhance this program.

But that’s not the only way we reach out to children and their families.  Social workers can offer children and families in need a variety of preventative supports, such as counseling, in-home services, respite care, parenting programs, assistance in addressing financial situations, access to alcohol and drug treatment, and so on. Parents and families can and do access these services on an entirely voluntary basis.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the Annual Report, tabled last week, demonstrates an increase in the percentage of children who are now receiving these services in their home communities.

A number of the recommendations made by the 16th Assembly Standing Committee on Social Programs dealt with the policies and procedures guiding child protection interventions.  I am pleased to report that the Child and Family Services Standards and Procedures Manual is undergoing a major revision.  The new manual, which will be completed next year, will reflect contemporary best practices, and will incorporate the recommendations of the previous standing committee. The 2014-2015 Capital Estimates include funding for a new Child and Family Information System, which will greatly enhance our ability to do file audits and track individual cases.

Parents also need help understanding how the system operates, and toward that end the Department of Health and Social Services has produced a series of plain language pamphlets explaining how to access services, what their rights are, what happens in Court, and what Plans of Care are all about.

The recommendations of the previous Standing Committee have also been taken into account in revisions to the Department’s training program for child protection workers.  Training programs for the supervisors and managers of child protection workers have been enhanced and continue to be expanded.  Training in child protection work has even been extended to the administrative level; for the first time ever, some Chief Executive Officers and senior administrators from regional health and social services authorities received training on the Child and Family Services Act in December of last year.  These training initiatives will continue on an ongoing basis.

Mr. Speaker, the Chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Programs, Mr. Moses, has commented that: addictions and poverty are not only issues in and of themselves, but they are often the root causes of child protection concerns.  For that reason, I believe that this government’s support for the Minister’s Forum on Addictions and Community Wellness will over time lead to further improvements, not just for those struggling with addictions, but more broadly in the lives of children, parents, families, and communities.  The same can be said for this government’s initiative to reduce poverty.  It too will help prevent children from becoming in need of protection.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, some real progress has been made in child and family services, but we still have a long way to go.  Later this Session, I will be speaking to the matter of next steps after the auditor’s report has been tabled in this Assembly.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.