The Future of Child Welfare Service Delivery in BC

Parenting is difficult under the best circumstances. It is important to consider the complex histories and challenges that clients in the child welfare system experience. At this point in time social service professionals and institutions working in child and family services face a renewed need to assess each case with a trauma-informed lens and make careful and compassionate clinical decisions.

These ideas were shared by Westcoast Family Centres’ Clinical Counselling Supervisor, Kate Saunders, on the 6th of April at Simon Fraser University, as she addressed PhD-level students from SFU’s Graduate Clinical Psychology program, on the topic of Clinical Considerations for Interacting with the Child Welfare System in BC.

Bringing with her over 18 years of experience as a counsellor and parent educator, Kate engaged with the graduate students on topics that ranged from: child and family welfare legislation, social responsibility concerning children with protection needs, and most importantly, addressing the BC child welfare system’s current approach to case considerations, and the need for a broadening of scope and understanding of complex and varied client circumstances.

She shed light on the various ‘layers’ surrounding a client seeking assistance, and the types of services that help to uphold the well-being of their family.  According to Kate, it is important to consider all forms of emotional harm and psychological trauma caused by abandonment, poor parenting practices, or forced separation from a caregiver when assessing a child’s need for protection and welfare. “Additionally, certain types of mental health concerns are more easily acknowledged within the current system and others are less understood, especially in cases where we see recurrent developmental trauma,” says Kate.  One explanation for why this phenomenon exists is due to a lack of updated information on neurobiology. “We have only had the capability to look into the way brain works and processes trauma since the early 2000’s. Many people were educated and trained before this information became widespread”. These natural biases and unconscious ‘blind spots’ that professionals in the field are working under, limit the scope of the definition for mental health and what behaviors are considered to be within an individual’s ‘control’. This is especially true for children in the school system, whose trauma-related disruptive behavior is frequently misunderstood and punished.

Another reality for some helping professionals is that they can operate professionally from their own personal perspective and desire to ‘fix’ the individual or family, rather than empower them to make the best choices for themselves. “The rescuer complex is real! Beware of any tendencies you have to draw personal meaning from being a helper or rescuer as it is a setup for counter-transference. Understanding our privilege as social service professionals is necessary for us to provide service in an unbiased manner”.

Kate also highlighted the importance of identifying and reporting child protection matters promptly and in accordance with the law, in cases where a person suspects child abuse or neglect. Over the years, Westcoast Family Centres has formed strong partnerships with Social Workers through our contracts with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Kate spoke about the critical role they play. “It is not our responsibility to perform a thorough assessment or investigation of the risk, it is our duty to report it to the people who are trained to investigate”. To further illustrate the realities of her presentation topics, Kate engaged the audience in hypothetical scenarios sourced from her experiences of clients in a family preservation program and child welfare system. A dynamic audience response showed their intent on critically examining the layered nature of a client’s background and understanding the need for prompt response when encountered with a child needing protection.

Kate left the future SFU clinicians with an inspiring and hopeful message, looking towards the future of child welfare in the region. “The transformative work performed by dedicated individuals in the fields of family and child development have brought us closer to understanding the true resiliency of the human spirit”. To answer the question: how can you tell where trauma ends and mental health begins? Kate states that “you can’t completely tell where trauma begins and ends, so in child welfare always make sure you’re working with your trauma-informed lenses intact”. The best method to help those fighting to make positive changes for their families is for all professionals (social workers, case workers, clinical counsellors, and all helping professionals) to work collaboratively, putting together the best they can offer. The presentation concluded with an interactive Q&A session and a warm appreciation for Kate’s important message.

Westcoast Family Centres Society continues to offer strength-based parenting programs and educational workshops for social service professionals. 


Ashlin Roche

Marketing and Communications Assistant





June 29, 2018
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