EDMONTON – Understaffing and poor working conditions in the department of Children’s Services are causing delays that leave vulnerable children at risk.
“Our members have been told by their managers that 46 per cent of positions in the North Region are vacant,” says Sandra Azocar, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represents 95,000 workers including more than 22,000 who work directly for the government.
That figure doesn’t include people who are temporarily away from work on leave, such as for sickness and maternity.
“Hiring and retention are significant issues when working conditions are so poor. Recently, we had zero staff in High Level and Athabasca, but this isn’t just a problem in rural areas,” she notes. “Last week, I was told there were zero staff in the Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan offices.”
Azocar says with far too few workers in many areas, in addition to trying to manage unmanageable caseloads, many workers are based hours away from the families they are assigned to help.
“Children at risk are left at risk because no one is available to check on their well-being” says Azocar. “They deserve better.”
She says members continue to do all they can to provide vital services, often working many unpaid hours.
“They do this because they care, but there’s limits to how much they can do and how long they can keep going. Unfortunately, vulnerable children and their families pay the price when the help they need isn’t there.”
Children’s Services has commissioned reports to look at working conditions in the past, but there have been no improvements, says Azocar.
“The department has failed to recruit and retain workers province-wide, but the situation in the North Region is the worst. As management has failed to address this issue for years, we not only need an entirely new structure, we need new management to fix this mess.”