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Union says social worker staffing at 'crisis' levels in B.C.

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Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing

The union representing social workers is raising the alarm about staffing levels in B.C.

“Social workers feel the staffing shortage right now is a crisis and it’s a crisis that is impacting their work,” said Paul Finch, president of the BC General Employees' Union.

A CTV News investigation this week identified a disturbing case involving three children that relatives said were living in awful circumstances. They said repeated calls to social workers and police in Fort St. John and B.C.’s Interior were ignored until the biological mom finally called the Ministry of Children and Family Development herself.

“They were utterly, 100 per cent neglected and locked in their rooms. The children, when found, were covered in feces, urine. They were literally feral,” said their foster mom, who is also a relative. CTV News can not legally identify her.

Finch would not comment on the specific case, but said the caseloads social workers are facing have become too much.

“Imagine carrying a triple caseload and if all of a sudden you have two or three crises inside that caseload, you’re into constant crisis management,” he said.

“We’re seeing a crisis in retention that is primarily resulting from burnout."

Grace Lore, the minister of children and family development, said earlier this week:

"We have, over the last little while, increased staff throughout our ministry, again layering accountability and oversight because we must get it right.”

However, the union said staffing is not keeping up with a growing population.

The BCGEU said that in 2020, there was one frontline staff member to 1,581 people. Four years later, it’s one to every 1,883.

Relatives of the siblings – who say the children were found in a filthy house and had been severely neglected – said there is no excuse for why pleas to check on the kids were repeatedly ignored.

“These children could have been saved so long ago, even if the children weren’t removed, the family could have received help,” the foster mom said.

RCMP were also asked about the case, but would not comment. 

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