Federation Research Bulletin: August 2019

This month’s research bulletin includes articles and reports about Indigenous child mental health, cross-sector collaboration and interventions, legal approaches to family preservation, the effect of supportive housing on child welfare, and the changing nature of social work.

  1. Working together to improve the mental health of indigenous children: A systematic review (Sept 2019)
  2. Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare (July 2019)
  3. The Costs and Potential Savings of Supportive Housing for Child Welfare–Involved Families (May 2019)
  4. Changing practice cultures in statutory child protection: Practitioners’ perspectives (May 2018)

For more information, additional research, and/or if you have feedback about how we can make this member service more useful, please contact The Federation’s Research and Policy Coordinator, Pam Alcorn at pam@fcssbc.ca.

1. Working together to improve the mental health of indigenous children: A systematic review (2019)

This review analyses the available knowledge about intersectoral service integration processes and tools in terms of improving the mental health of Indigenous children. Eleven studies from four countries (Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand) were reviewed and compared.

The authors found that mental health service utilization rates for Indigenous youth to be very low in all four countries and identified a combination of factors for this, including stigmatization of mental health, lack of culturally trained providers, and lack of available primary healthcare service.

They identified six “enablers” that improve cross-sectoral service integration for practitioners and policy-makers to consider. These were: involvement of community, access and cost, collaborative multidisciplinary health services, strong relationships, cultural sensitivity, and organizational and staff capacity.

The researchers also identified a need for families and youth to lead the development of models of Indigenous care, carried out by health professionals, and not the other way around and for more interventions to be evaluated by Indigenous communities themselves.

2. Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare (2019)

This study was designed to assess the impact of parental representation on child welfare outcomes in family law cases involving abuse or neglect.

Using administrative child welfare data from the state of New York, the study assessed the outcomes of 9582 families and their 18,288 children and compared the difference between those families that were provided interdisciplinary law office representation (including social work staff and parent advocates, among others) to those provided a standard panel attorney.

The study did not find a notable difference in terms of foster care entry nor any difference in children’s likelihoods of experiencing a subsequent substantiated report of maltreatment. However, when children’s parents received the interdisciplinary representation and those children did enter foster care, children spent 118 fewer days (on average) in foster care during the four years following the abuse or neglect case filing. Additionally, children whose parents received the interdisciplinary model achieved overall permanency, reunification, and guardianship more quickly.

These results provide evidence that interdisciplinary legal representation for parents is an effective intervention that can promote permanency for children in foster care.

3. The Costs and Potential Savings of Supportive Housing for Child Welfare-Involved Families (2019)

This study focused on a demonstration project that provided supportive housing to families in the child welfare system in five different US states. This report calculates and analyzes the costs and/or savings (from the perspective of the agencies providing services) of the program that resulted from the families’ use of homeless programs and child welfare services.

Most notably, the project greatly improved families’ housing stability. Nearly 86% of families in the treatment group were living in their own homes after 12 months compared with 49% of families in the comparison group. This increase in housing stability yielded modest savings due to the reduced use of homeless programs.

However, supportive housing did not affect the likelihood that families would have a new substantiated allegation of child abuse or neglect. Likewise, supportive housing had no effect on child welfare investigation costs for any of the demonstration sites. However, access to supportive housing did increase the likelihood of family reunification and also reduced the amount of time children spent in foster care.

The authors suggest that the greatest potential for child welfare savings may be targeting supportive housing to families with preservation cases that are most likely to otherwise result in removal. And while supportive housing can help keep families intact and improve their housing stability, it does sometimes require greater investment in service delivery by agencies providing those services.

4. Changing practice cultures in statutory child protection: Practitioners’ perspectives (2018)

Many child protection systems struggle to implement new, more effective models of frontline practice within a context of high caseloads, increasing costs, and compliance‐focused bureaucratic cultures. This article discusses changes brought about by Practice First, a framework for practice introduced to improve the quality and effectiveness of child protection work in Australia.

This research shows that the initiative was effective in changing cultures of practice, enabled workers to spend more face‐to‐face time with families, helped them to build relationships, and was perceived to improve the quality of decision‐making.

However, this was not achieved through reduced administrative burdens. And the new framework, though popular with practitioners and families alike, did not remove all obstacles to effective practice. Broader, systemic challenges persisted. Departments remained beset by staff vacancies and information technology difficulties, and the risk‐averse approach to child protection was still seen to prevail in some sections of the department.

The Community Social Services Health & Safety Council

A few weeks ago in this space, I introduced to Federation members a new initiative to support BC’s community social services sector—a health and safety council. Many other sectors and industries have long had such health and safety bodies (e.g., hospitality, home care, forestry). Now, after many years of advocacy work, we have created a similar council that can address and the unique needs and conditions of our sector.

The council will provide support to all employers (union & non-unionized) which are registered within the Counselling or Social Services (CU#766007), Life and Job Skills Training (CU#766010), and Residential Social Services Facility (CU#766017) classification units and will work to:

  • Promote positive, proactive relations between unions, WorkSafeBC, and the sector
  • Foster healthy workplaces
  • Improve injury prevention efforts
  • Minimize the impact of illness and injury in the workplace
  • Reduce the associated costs of the above items things

This initiative builds on years of work undertaken by The Federation, CSSEA, and WorkSafeBC as part of a pilot project designed to lower claims rates for community social service employers. (The pilot project successfully reduced claims and, as a result, our sector saw a decrease in WorkSafeBC rates last year.)

A healthier, safer social services sector

As some of you may recall, for the past couple of years our presentations to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services included specific talking points about the rates of workplace violence in our sector. We have made clear the fact that this is a complex issue that requires complex solutions.

Such incidents result from a perfect storm of overlapping factors—the extreme needs of individuals seeking services, the desperation that results from going days or weeks or months waiting for vital services or support, staff who are under-supported or unprepared for the kinds of work they are required to do.

Our goal is for this health and safety council to help to shine a light on some of these underlying issues and help organizations to develop intentional strategies to address them. Doing so will not only help make our places of work healthier and safer, but I believe the work of this council (in addition to our involvement in the CSS Roundtable and our Labour Market Research Project) will also improve recruitment and retention across the sector.

Help us help the sector

You may have already received communication from CSSEA asking for your support of this initiative (which will be funded through a levy on your classification units). We encourage you to send in the requested letter of support. The deadline to send in the letters of support is August 16th.

The health and safety council will be a very good thing for our sector. It will have representatives from community sector organizations, the unions, and from the government and it will work to promote collaboration, help to improve service delivery and work to make our entire sector stronger and more sustainable.

If you have any questions about this council or the other initiatives mentioned above, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Rick FitzZaland
Executive Director