CHILD-welfare staff say the for-profit company now caring for some of the city's most troubled kids uses workers so poorly trained they do more harm than good.

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CHILD-welfare staff say the for-profit company now caring for some of the city's most troubled kids uses workers so poorly trained they do more harm than good.

"These are the most challenging kids in the system, and they're being taken care of by the people least able to do it," said one veteran emergency-shelter worker. "If it's me and two Complete Care staff, it's basically just me."

Complete Care is the private firm that staffs group homes and emergency shelters as well as caring for kids housed in hotels. They are part of the Emergency Placement Resources (EPR) unit of child welfare, which has blossomed as more kids are apprehended, more group homes open and the province tries -- with limited success -- to end the practice of housing children in hotels.

'These are the most challenging kids in the system, and they're being taken care of by the people least able to do it'‐ veteran emergency-shelter worker

Two shelter support workers spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity, saying they would be disciplined for speaking publicly.

One young staffer, who is planning to become a licensed social worker, described Complete Care staff as well-intentioned but ill-equipped to deal with some of the city's most troubled and traumatized children. The worker said many struggle with English and have little understanding of indigenous culture and virtually no training in conflict resolution, suicide or crisis intervention.

There are at least 50 EPR shelters in Winnipeg. They might see newborn babies apprehended directly from the hospital. They often see youth released from jail or from the psychiatric ward or who have been kicked out of group homes run by Macdonald Youth Services or Marymound.

However Macdonald Youth Services disputes that description, saying that no youth is ever kicked out of their group homes without a transition plan being in place.

Other times, children are taken to shelters as a way to "push pause" on a volatile family situation that could improve with the right help, allowing the child to return home.

Social workers often drop children at emergency shelters with only the clothes they're wearing and with little information other than a name and health number. That leaves shelter staff to begin gleaning information about the child -- their history of trauma, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or violence.

One veteran youth support worker said many shelters have no towel racks or closet bars because of the risk of suicide. Most are not locked because of fire code rules and because teens are allowed some autonomy. But that also allows teens to bolt out doors and windows when staff are busy.

"These are the most difficult kids in the whole system," said the veteran worker. "Often (Complete Care employees) are horrified at the level of disrespect the kids show us. But that's what we deal with. It's not Sunday school."

Many Complete Care workers are recent immigrants and don't speak English well enough to take phone messages from social workers, accompany children to doctors appointments or pass on information about specific children at shift change. The experienced youth worker said often the Complete Care staff must be shown how to properly buckle a baby into a car seat, heat up formula and ensure kids have the proper clothing for a winter many Complete Care staff haven't experienced themselves yet.

Already, there is little cash to offer programming for children in shelters, even though many spend months there. Experienced staff can take children to the park, to the pool or skating because they have the control and confidence to do so. Complete Care staff do not, said the veteran worker.

The veteran youth worker said Complete Care workers also may be struggling with violence they experienced before immigrating. They make little more than minimum wage and often take overtime shifts that see them work seven days a week.

"They just want to get through the day, minimize the conflict," said the veteran worker, which contributes to a huge morale problem among youth workers, already on the very front of the front lines of the child welfare system.

Complete Care has said it will not comment on anything to do with child welfare operations.

The provincial government says Complete Care staff get an orientation to the child-welfare system and non-violent crisis intervention training. If there are performance issues, those can be dealt with through the normal human resource process.

Typically, there are about 170 kids in group homes at any one time in Winnipeg.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca