Nova Scotians share common values.

We expect that help and support will be provided for families, children and youth in need.

However, year after year our government underfunds social programs and services like child welfare. Social workers are on the front line coordinating these services and ensuring that children are protected from harm, abuse, and neglect.

Social workers assist and advocate for Nova Scotian families, children and youth, with goal of keeping families together.

Social workers engage with people in real time. Not from behind a desk. They connect with families, children and youth face-to-face and ensure that they have the tools and resources to support families to stay together.

Their caseloads, lack of administrative support, and lack of community resources creates a situation where social workers are unable to get out from behind their desk. They are running from crisis to crisis rather than working with families towards meaningful solutions. Social workers are finding themselves experiencing burnout and illness at an alarming rate as they go above and beyond their duties to hold the child welfare system together.

Government has responded to the crisis by moving positions around to address acute shortages in certain offices. They have held additional training and a social worker symposium in order to talk through the work and responsibilities associated with social work right now. They also added supervisory staff to help support the front lines.

However, in many offices across the province, the crisis remains, and children are at risk where there aren’t enough services or child welfare social workers to provide the support Nova Scotians should receive. Real investment is needed urgently so families can be supported when they first begin to have problems and avoid more serious problems later.

Families and public services like child welfare should be a priority in this next budget.


Here's how you can help

Join the conversation online & hashtag #childwelfareonthebrink

Write a letter asking Premier Stephen McNeil to invest
resources in Nova Scotia’s child welfare system:

Office of the Premier
7th Floor, One Government Place
1700 Granville Street
Halifax, NS
B3J 1X5

P.O. Box 726
Halifax, NS
B3J 2T3

Add your name & email below to receive updates on our advocacy efforts:

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Learn more about how
child welfare is on the brink

When child welfare services are underfunded these are the
major consequences and costs.

  • Inadequate care and protection violate children’s rights 
    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN 1989) is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. When child welfare services are underfunded the right of freedom from abuse, neglect and exploitation is compromised.

  • Inadequate care and protection kills children
    Violence and neglect are major causes of early death.

  • Inadequate care and protection threatens wellbeing and stops children from reaching their full potential.
    There are several ways in which inadequate care and protection stops children from developing and learning to their full potential. It has harmful effects on the development of very young children, with children in institutional care who lack an attachment with a consistent carer commonly facing problems with physical development and language.

  • Inadequate care and protection is a major driver of inequity
    Many children who experience a lack of care or protection have severely diminished life chances as they are unable to learn or develop to their full potential. These children commonly come from already impoverished and discriminated against groups, and such girls and boys are further discriminated and stigmatised by communities because of the exploitation and abuse they have suffered.

  • Inadequate care and protection is hindering economic growth
    Child abuse and exploitation carry high economic costs. The economic costs of child abuse and neglect include: lost earnings and tax revenue as a consequence of premature death and the costs of child welfare, alternative care and health services. In the US, such costs are estimated to amount to $94 billion annually or 1% of the country’s GDP.

Learn more here.

Evidence that Nova Scotia’s
Child Protection System is on the Brink

A recently release study by  Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), a federal partner of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW), published a report which paints a troubling picture of Canada’s child welfare system.

The report, Understanding Social Work and Child Welfare: Canadian Survey and Interviews with Child Welfare Experts highlights some troubling statistics:

  • 44% of social workers have experienced threats or violence on the job,

  • 75% of social workers have unmanageable workloads as a critical issue in their practice,

  • 45% of social workers who left the field did so due to stress and/or vicarious trauma, and

  • 72% of social workers say administrative responsibilities prevent them from spending adequate time with clients.

The statistics reflect how demanding caseloads, the complexity of issues faced by families and an unsupportive work environment lead to vicarious trauma, greater burnout and turnover.

In Nova Scotia, statistics released in the fall of 2017 by FOIPOP show the significant stress the system is facing. There was a striking rise of social worker short-term illness hours, from 16,513 in the fiscal year 2013-14 to 26,105 in 2016-17 and an increase of nearly 10,000 hours. This corresponds with the increase of child protection referrals during that time which increased from 10,078 to 11,028 per year, an increase of 10%. 

Nova Scotia social workers report that system is challenge by

  • High caseloads make it impossible to provide quality case management and deliver quality programs for at-risk families, youth and children. The Child Youth and Family Services’ (CYFS) current Child Welfare Policy on caseloads is over two decades old and does not reflect requirements to adequately respond to the needs of Nova Scotia’s most vulnerable population.

  • Supporting a family in need is not simple for a number of reasons, including the fact that families are not a simple unit. Family structures can be complex which impact social worker workloads.

  • Turnover and recruitment issues affect the ability to care appropriately for families, children, and youth.

  • Social workers report that they are stressed and overwhelmed in an organization that is in constant change. The transformation of CYFS led to changes to the Children and Family Services Act. The changes have increased pressure on vulnerable families. There were over 80 amendments made to the Act including an expanded definition of a child in need of protective services, including youth 16-19 years of age and tightened court timelines. Social workers and community organizations reported their concerns with the legislative changes prior to implementation. Their concerns included increased caseloads, the readiness of staff and community organizations to implement the changes and the ability of families to make necessary changes given the tightened court timelines. The lack of additional staff to handle the additional responsibility downloaded by this Act onto the social workers who must uphold it.

  • There is a lack of departmental direction and policy to improve culturally competent CYFS service delivery to clients, and/or children of African Nova Scotian descent.

  • Significant changes to the access and transportation services which were aimed at being more child focused, operationally flexible and financially sustainable have fallen short of the intended outcomes. Social workers and community organizations both report changes in the approach to access and transportation services were predominantly grounded in cost saving initiatives rather than principles of effectiveness. This has resulted in issues in the arrangement of visitation for families, resulting in already traumatized persons losing low wage.

  • Front line social workers face insufficient administrative support. They are required to spend an unreasonable amount of time completing paperwork, administrative tasks, and are required to function as resource organizers rather than social workers focused on case management and direct service delivery.

  • Front line social workers entering child protection do not receive the significant mentoring and support they require.

  • There is an overall lack of community supports such as housing, food security, income security, childcare and access to meaningful income.

  • Lastly, there is a lack of community voice and oversight of the system, Nova Scotia needs a Child Youth Advocate Office!.

Why is the system on the Brink?

At the root of this issue is austerity policies and the erosion of the public services.

The current service delivery for child protective services is compromised by inadequate resources placed into this system to accommodate the demands of the amended Children and Family Services Act, the ever-increasing complexity of intersecting issues faced by vulnerable Nova Scotia families and a lack of community resources.

This has resulted in an increase of child and family poverty in Nova Scotia. Child poverty remains stubbornly high and continues to be on the rise. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia reported that child poverty increased from 18.1% in 1989 to 21.5% in 2016.

Poverty and inequity have continued to play a factor in the health of the child welfare system. Poverty and inequity are neither a necessary nor sufficient factor in the occurrence of child abuse or neglect as it is caused by many interlocking factors. However, there is a clear relationship between family socio-economic circumstances and the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. Scholars and researchers have continued to describe this relationship in a number of ways, either through a direct effect through material hardship or lack of income to support themselves, or an indirect effect through parental stress and neighbourhood conditions.  

Disadvantaging socio-economic circumstances may operate as acute or chronic factors.

Evidence suggests that the direct and indirect impacts of poverty also interact with other factors affecting parenting to increase or reduce the chances of child abuse and neglect including:

  • parenting capacity (e.g.mental and/or physical illness, learning disabilities, (lack of) prior education, shame and stigma)

  • family capacity for investment in quality of life (e.g. to secure care, respite or better environmental conditions);

  • negative adult behaviours (e.g. domestic violence or substance use, perhaps provoked or exacerbated by family stress);

  • positive adult and child behaviours that promote social support and resilience; and

  • external neighbourhood factors (e.g. the social and physical environment).

These interactions between poverty and other contributory factors are complex and frequently circular. For example, poverty increases the risk of mental illness and mental illness increases the likelihood of poverty. Parental substance use accompanied by poverty is more likely to lead to contact with child protection services than substance use in a position of affluence.

The conception of poverty as a contributory causal factor is supported by evidence from experimental or quasi-experimental studies in the US that raising the income of families in poverty had a statistically significant impact in reducing child neglect and abuse rates.

Learn more here.

Nova Scotia’s child protection systems pay insufficient direct attention to the role of poverty in child abuse and neglect. To change this, we propose that the Nova Scotia government invest in broad spectrum of social services.

Canada and Nova Scotia have the financial capacity to invest! A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD )study looked at social expenditures across countries and showed that Canada falls well below the OECD average. Canada invests 17.2% of its GDP on public social spending compared to the OECD average of 21%. The percentage has dropped from the 1990’s when Canada was at 20.4%. We need to this change!

What can be found in this report is the realization that we have the financial capacity to put resources in places to truly impact the wellbeing and safety of children in Nova Scotia.

Act now, tell the Premier to invest in child welfare services!