Maple Ridge child and youth mental health workers and protection workers skipped their lunch break Wednesday and picked up picket signs to protest what they say are low wages, staff shortages and overwork.
“Vulnerable children are falling through the cracks,” said Doug Kinna, vice-president of social component of the B.C. Government Employees Union.
“They need to fix this ministry from the ground up.”
The workers gathered in front of incumbent Liberal candidate Doug Bing’s constituency office for the noon-hour demonstration, protesting a lack of remedy to shortfalls in the child welfare system, pointed out by Bob Plecas in his 2016 review of the system.
In that report, Plecas said that the entry-level wages for social workers in B.C. are 11 per cent lower than the Canadian average. The maximum entry-level wage in B.C. is $36.50 an hour, compared to the Canadian average maximum of just under $41 an hour.
Workers “are regularly poached” because of higher wages in health or education ministries. On the other hand, “this is one of the most difficult jobs in all of government,” Plecas writes.
The lower wages makes it hard to keep staff, said Kinna. “They’re way below industry standard.”
He said that last year the Ministry of Children and Family Development hired 100 new frontline workers, and over the last year have lost all but two of them as people moved elsewhere in the department or to other cities or employers.
He said that in the 2017 report into the Alex Gervais incident, an 18-year-old who committed suicide by jumping through a window while in ministry care, that the ministry was paying a caregiver $8,000 a month to care for Gervais.
But, “they won’t pay their own staff properly,” Kinna said, adding it was “child welfare on the cheap.
“They just have no interest in funding it properly from the ground up.”
Kinna said the protest was being held after the union was told by the government last month that there’s still no more money for increasing wages.
Workers didn’t want to comment directly, but said they need double the current complement of nine child and youth mental health workers that are currently in the Maple Ridge office. The waiting list for a child struggling with anxiety is a year, said one, while other kids are at risk of suicide.
Plecas also noted in his report there is a lack of training for frontline workers and that the amount of money the Ministry of Children and Family Development actually spends for training in a year has dropped by half.
In 2007, the ministry spent $5.4 million on training. In 2015, that dropped to $2.2 million.
“This does not allow MCFD to fully prepare frontline workers for their work in the field, or to keep workers fully engaged and fully trained in new and evolving ways to practice,” Plecas wrote.
Meanwhile, kids are waiting for help because there’s not enough staff to cover for when workers go on holidays or sick leave.
Bing, running for the Liberals again in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said that the government has accepted the Plecas report and would implement it over four years. The first year would be focused on developing a plan.
“This is only year one, really.
“I think things have to be given an opportunity to unfold, too.”
The 2016 provincial budget has earmarked $216 million over three years to implement the report.
“I do know that the government is hiring hundreds of new social workers. There are more people being hired,” Bing said.
The workers are also currently under contract, he added.