The province of Manitoba is spending $1.5 million to set up a Child Welfare Secretariat it says will better co-ordinate the work of the four aboriginal agencies created under devolution.
At first glimpse, the plan seems solid. Twelve people will be hired, space rented in the Manitoba Metis Federation building and every effort made to search out ways to provide better service to kids in care.
This was, of course, the stated reason devolution took place in the first place.
The standing committee office was recommended in a 2006 report on issues related to the child and family services system.
But at least one First Nations authority is balking at the decision to spend money on consultants and reports instead of channelling the cash directly to front-line workers.
In a November, 2007 document obtained by the Free Press, the Northern Authority said the new office would be "a new level of bureaucratic collaboration... being developed to further divert desperately needed funding from the agencies."
The Northern Authority ultimately agreed to sign on with the new Secretariat, although grudgingly, according to some sources.
Carolyn Loeppky, assistant deputy minister of Child and Family Services, said last week that all the authorities welcome the chance to work together, pooling resources and information.
The government, through the Secretariat, also plans to bump up its computer system to be more responsive to the needs of communities and agencies, she said.
If the funding comes through in the next budget, CFS will be able to develop a computer system that will flag kids in care as they move around the province. A similar system is already in place to keep track of children with serious medical concerns.
Again, anything that helps CFS figure out where all the kids in care are, and who is supposed to be looking after them, would seem to a mom-and-apple-pie issue. Jobs are being created, experts hired and computer systems upgraded. So why is there serious bickering between the agencies? And would the money being spent on this project be better used hiring more social workers?
As you read in last week's Free Press, an MGEU poll into the working conditions and concerns of social workers in Manitoba's child welfare system painted a grim picture.
The poll showed 35 per cent of the workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. Half said they were only "somewhat satisfied."
Forty-six per cent of the workers said the size of their caseloads was their single biggest concern.
Thirty-five per cent said they'd been assaulted on the job. Twenty per cent of those assaults required medical attention.
Why would anyone want to do this job?
Social work students can't know when they enter school they may end up spending their own money on clients, that they could be threatened on the job, or might end up with caseloads of 40 or more clients.
When kids in care die, we look to the workers who were charged with their protection. They are supposed to be the ones seeing these kids frequently, keeping track of their files and ensuring their safety.
And this is where we come to the nuts and bolts of things. If this poll proves the social workers are so overwhelmed they don't feel capable of performing their duties, why not?
The province staunchly defends the creation of the Child Welfare Secretariat, just as it has refused to admit devolution might have been a bad way to run the child welfare system.
Despite infighting, the authorities have all agreed to the Secretariat, with the concerns raised by the Northern Authority above.
But they've raised a valid point: If we know those front-line workers are feeling abused and burned out, why isn't something being done to help them so they can help the kids whose files are piling up on their desks?
Are more studies and policy analysts really the answer?
Lindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com