News : Local Child Welfare Crisis Line Unable to Answer Calls
Winnipeg, MB, Canada, May 27, 2015 -- An after-hours child welfare crisis line serving Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities is increasingly unable to respond to calls directly, relying on a private call centre to retrieve messages.
The 24-hour service, provided by the Child & Family All Nations Co-ordinated Response Network (ANCR), responds to emergency calls and child protection referrals.
If all child and family service workers are occupied, calls are picked up by a private company called TigerTel, which relays messages to CFS workers.
Over the last four years, the amount of time the private answering service has spent taking calls has grown nearly seven-fold, a committee of the Manitoba legislature was told Tuesday.
In one incident earlier this year, it took six hours for an ANCR staffer to return a call from a foster parent concerned about a youth in potential distress. The youth had telephoned her former foster parent late at night from a Winnipeg hotel, where she was under CFS care, to say she had taken some pills.
The youth’s former foster parent called the emergency line around midnight. The call was bounced over to TigerTel, where an operator told the foster parent to call 911. ANCR didn’t get back to the foster parent until 6 a.m. Fortunately, the youth did not come to any harm, MLAs were told.
Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross promised to look into the matter when the incident was raised Tuesday at a committee meeting examining her department’s spending estimates.
"The scenario that you have described, I agree, that that is not acceptable," she told Progressive Conservative family services critic Ian Wishart. "We need to do our due diligence and have the conversation with the individuals that were involved."
Wishart produced a copy of an email he obtained that detailed the incident. It was sent to senior CFS officials from ANCR executive director Sandie Stoker. The same email also contained statistics on how much time TigerTel spent fielding CFS calls.
In 2011-2012, the private answering service spent an average of 152 minutes per month taking calls when ANCR had no one to answer the phone. Usage has steadily climbed since then to 1,162 minutes per month in 2014-2015.
Confronted with that information on Tuesday, Irvin-Ross gave a glass-half-full response.
She said the apparent increase in calls shows families are "aware of the services we’re providing" and community members are taking their responsibilities to report potential cases of neglect or abuse seriously.
"I do not want to discourage that at all," she told the committee. "We need to make sure that we have the professionals within the system on the front lines providing the necessary supports to families as well as children."
Wishart said he is concerned the dramatic increase in the use of the messenger service is a "symptom of a system that is over-stressed."
He sought assurances from the minister that she would look into the entire after-hours service.
The after-hours program operated by ANCR is supported by 20.8 staff positions, including two supervisors, an administrative assistant, two case aides as well as full-time and part-time social work staff, according to the agency’s 2013-2014 annual report.
Irvin-Ross told the committee she did not have up-to-date staffing figures, but would provide them.
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She said the nature of the calls received on the emergency line range from reports of alleged neglect and abuse to child-parent conflicts and school absenteeism.
"We priorize the calls as they come in and they (social workers) make their best judgment," the minister said.
Sometimes issues can be handled on the phone; other times only a referral is necessary, she said.
However, Wishart said he’s been told about 60 per cent of calls result in case files being opened.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Child & Family All Nations Co-ordinated Response Network:
Child & Family All Nations Coordinated Response Network is a social services organization
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