N.S. child protection social workers overworked, facing burnout: union

NSGEU President Jason MacLean says Nova Scotia's child protection social workers are facing burnout on the job. Reynold Gregor/ Global News

The union representing social workers in Nova Scotia says employees are being overworked and facing burnout on the job.

According to the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), child protection social workers are dealing with unmanageable workloads.

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They point to data obtained by the NDP through a freedom of information request that showed short-term illness leave among provincial social workers has increased by 60 per cent since 2013.

While Minister of Community Services Kelly Regan says she is listening to concerns raised by the union, she told reporters on Friday that the employees’ needs are being met.

“We want to make sure our social workers are well supported and we believe they are,” she said.

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“According to North American standards, we’re well within those in terms of case numbers, case complexity. We always take that into account. We want to make sure that a social worker’s educational background, the complexity of the case, the number of cases, geographical issues, anything like that are taken into account.”

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NSGEU president Jason MacLean disputes Regan’s statement.

“I believe the minister is being irresponsible by talking about our members saying she’s not worried about them,” MacLean said “They’re crying for help and we’re trying to get their attention, saying there’s more that needs to be done for the workers.”

The union says it sent a letter to the government in May listing their concerns and offered suggestions on how to improve the situation, including filling vacancies immediately and creating a “float team” to move from location to location to clear up caseload backlogs.

The province responded and agreed with several of the suggestions, and Regan says the government is focused on its multi-year process for transforming the department.

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“At any given time, we have about 10 per cent of our social workers off or a vacancy. So we have created a hiring pool to make sure those vacancies are filled quickly and we continue to work with the union and with staff to make sure that social workers have the support they need to do a good job for the children of Nova Scotia,” she said.

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But MacLean says members are still experiencing burnout and not enough is being done to alleviate that.

“What the minister needs to do is listen to the workers. They’re the ones that are doing the work,” he said.

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