Child welfare

Early intervention is key to child welfare

Department of Community Services looking at more prevention and early intervention

Lynn Hartwell (middle), deputy minister of community services, talks to MLAs.
Lynn Hartwell (middle), deputy minister of community services, presents to MLAs.   Ben Jamieson

Prevention and early intervention in child welfare is an area the Department of Community Services is trying to improve in, a group of MLAs heard Tuesday.

In a presentation to the standing committee on community services, Lynn Hartwell, community services deputy minister, said the intent is always to prevent children from coming into care.

Currently, the department focuses primarily on intervening when a crisis happens. This means resources are in place to deal with cases once they escalate and children may have to be placed in provincial care.

The number of children in permanent care has decreased in recent years. In 2011, there were 925 children in care. As of now there are 679.

While numbers of children in care are decreasing, the department insists the work is never done.

The majority of department spending — 80 per cent — is targeted towards cases of crisis and in-care supports, while only five per cent is directed at prevention and early intervention.

Hartwell told the committee that community service staff in the field struggle with deciding the right time to intervene.

She said caseworkers walk the line between, “not wanting to disrupt a family but if something does happen they’ll be criticized.”

Janet Nearing, director of placement services, said they can easily track the cases that involve crisis intervention.

“Prevention is difficult because the results don’t show up on a checklist,” she said, “but we know from years of experience that if you put money upfront you have a better outcome.”

Janet Nearing (left) and Lynn Hartwell (middle) addressing provincial government
Janet Nearing (left) and Lynn Hartwell (middle) addressing MLAs.   Ben Jamieson

Currently, there are 114 prevention services in the province. These include organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club.

Nearing said it’s important to respond early to best serve children and families.

“To help a parent when things aren’t as serious is only just the right thing to do, rather than to watch and wait and see them flounder and say ‘well now we need to do something.’ That’s not the system we want to have in this province.”