Review of 21 Infant Deaths: BCASW responds

BC Association of Social Workers

For Immediate Release

Date: 3rd February, 2011



The headlines continue in response to Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s Aggregate Review of 21 Infant Deaths in BC. I am glad that is so. As Chair of the BC Association of Social Workers’ Child Welfare Committee it is very easy to endorse the recommendations in the report. The research, the stories and the analysis are stark and compelling.

In all honesty I have struggled to find a response that can add to the arguments and dialogue. Reporters have done their homework well. My struggle is based in the reality that solid facts based on solid research on essential changes in law, policy, service delivery and practice have been presented to all levels of government and the public for many decades. If even a small percentage of those “facts” and the resulting recommendations had been acted upon years ago we would all feel the benefits and families would be experiencing much better realities today.

It baffles and in fact stuns me that it seems so easy for too many of us to ignore those living in poverty and unsafe conditions to the extent that children die. We don’t want to look at the harsh realities our values, politics, practices and priorities have created. Parents still are blamed, or addictions or mental illness or family history.

I have been working in the social work field for four decades. Forty years ago, we knew that solving poverty would benefit all. We knew it was never going to be as simple as creating jobs. We knew we Canadians had to shift our attitudes and perspectives and join a movement to end poverty, violence and inequities. We had to mend the old wrongs of colonialism. We had to face our classism and our personal contribution to the perpetuation of impoverishment and injustice and prejudice. We all play a role in letting the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and in allowing government after government to make promises or offer bandaids or test “new” theories and initiatives.

No one Ministry, one social worker, one health worker can solve all the issues that contribute to the death, abuse or neglect of children. Responsibility for the depth of poverty faced by so many children and families in BC lies with all of us. We have the power, the right and the responsibility to insist on and support action on Mary Ellen’s recommendations, on First Call’s demands to end child poverty, on the bottomless pit of research that clearly shows that universal childcare, safe affordable housing, living wages, a fair minimum wage and welfare benefits are essential.

For MCFD the solutions are complex yet possible. It is not as simple as reducing case load size. The quality of social work practice must be high and consistent province wide. This requires professional social work education, solid hiring procedures, and ongoing access to training “on the job”. There are times when a caseload of three families can fill every working hour and other times when a caseload of 30 might be manageable. Systems must be in place to manage those unpredictable fluctuations in need for intervention. Access to skilled and supportive supervision is essential for social workers. Access for families to strong, well funded, community social and health services is also essential and we are very aware of those service disparities across the province.

Investment in children and families, in ending poverty and violence, is the only ethical and socially and economically prudent route for any progressive government to take. The benefits will be felt in all sectors: health, justice, education, child safety. Invest in prevention must be our call to all levels of government.


Contact: Carol Ross, MSW

Chair, BCASW Child Welfare and Family Committee