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Children’s Aid Society employees on strike for safer work conditions

Report in 2014 examined worker safety, made recommendations


(Canadian OH&S News) — Workers with the Children’s Aid Society of the Region of Peel (CAS), the agency for child services for the Peel Region near Toronto, are striking to get better work conditions — including improved safety.

The strike began officially on Sept. 18, after Local 4914 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) unanimously rejected the employer’s “final offer” in ongoing contract negotiations, according to a news release from the union. At 7 a.m. on the following day, unionized employees established picket lines outside the CAS headquarters in Mississauga, stopping motorists arriving at or leaving the offices to give them information about workers’ grievances.

“Our residential staff probably experience physical aggression on a daily basis,” said CUPE Local 4914 president Sonia Yung. “Our workers face verbal threats, physical threats.”

CAS workers who visit client residences often deal with special-needs children who may not understand their own behaviours or what triggers them, Yung added. “You don’t know what home you’re walking into. You don’t know if the client is experiencing any sort of addictions issues, any sort of mental-health issues.”

She elaborated that part of the problem in Peel is that children’s aid workers have come to accept violence and threats as something that comes with the territory. “Part of what we need to do as employers, as unions, is to educate people about the fact that violence should never be a normal part of any job,” she said.

“What we’d like to see is at the front end, before someone even goes out, that there’s some real thought and planning that goes into making sure that when the worker goes out, they do so in a safe way.”

CAS chief executive officer Rav Bains told COHSN that the organization treats worker safety as its top priority.

“We have a very strong health and safety committee, which is made up of union and management staff, and we have over 100 health and safety policies,” said Bains, adding that he could not recall any major violent incidents against CAS workers in the recent past.

“They haven’t, to be honest, given a lot of examples of what they’re actually saying are the issues,” he said about the strikers.

CUPE wants the CAS to accept the findings of a 2014 study by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), which examined the safety situation among the province’s children’s aid societies and made a series of recommendations. “All the other agencies have accepted the findings of this report,” said Yung.

Bains said that the report had resulted from a joint initiative by the union, the OACAS and the provincial government — an initiative that is still in progress. “It is still going through a number of committees in the OACAS. We’re absolutely committed to taking that report to our joint health and safety committee,” he explained. “But it’s very difficult to sign off on something that we haven’t even seen.”

He also claimed that there was a common misconception that other children’s aid organizations in the province had signed off on all the recommendations. “That is inaccurate,” he said.

Yung countered that the union merely wanted Bains to have the joint health and safety committee discuss the recommendations and how to implement them. “In no way is the language on the table about accepting the recommendations,” she said about the negotiations. “I’m not sure if it’s just him being misinformed, or if it’s just an outright way to divert attention from what we’re requesting.”

She added that all children’s aid workers face the same safety risks, but that “this employer isn’t willing to acknowledge the truth of it.”

In the meantime, the CAS has initiated a contingency plan that it has developed to continue providing essential services while workers are picketing.

“We have qualified managers, we have qualified people,” said Bains, “making sure that the most vulnerable and the highest cases are absolutely being served.”


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7 Comments » for Children’s Aid Society employees on strike for safer work conditions
  1. Geer says:

    I have been assaulted on two separate occasions — once by a landlord who did not believe who I said I was despite showing him my ID, and then on a second occasion when I had to complete a subsequent investigations on a father who was high on Oxy. I have not included any incidents when I was cursed at or berated by parents.

  2. CAS worker in Peel says:

    The Peel CAS employer does not seem to understand the health and safety needs of workers. And honestly, the longer you work in the environment, the more you become blind to the risk you face each day. You have to learn to ignore it in order to do your job. I have been threatened and intimidated and assaulted by special needs children during visits to family’s homes. One child was so aggressive toward me that the child’s siblings had to hold the child back so I could speak with the mother to get my monthly update. I endured this treatment at almost every home visit, and the behaviour escalated with each visit. I have also had a child throw something at me, causing a cut and subsequent scar. I have had parents insult my appearance and suggest that physical harm would come to me some day because of their strong disagreement with the CAS intervention. I have been shouted at, glared at, had doors slammed in my face and had been thrown out of homes (not physically thrown out – yet). I have been present on more than one occasion when an adult has been high on drugs or intoxicated from alcohol and trying to care for their child – meaning I can’t leave until I ensure that child is safely in the care of a sober adult. I have seen parents experiencing serious mental health symptoms, and the effect this has on their mood, which is frightening to me. These various experiences have caused me to panic, and sometimes sob later when I am alone. I have endured most of these situations alone, without any way to defend myself (we don’t carry guns, pepper spray or even take partners for support to the majority of visits with families).
    I was trained in a non-violent method of defence several years ago, but I am doubtful this would help me much in most, if any, situations. I would take comfort in having a partner with me during home visits. At present, I believe my phone is my best defence, so I can call 911, which I have also had to do. Like any job, no one really knows what we experience until they themselves do it. When is the last time management staff, particularly Rav Bains, did frontline work? This is an important question and is often overlooked by those who make the demands and set the standards. What needs to happen to one of us before someone will listen?

  3. N. says:

    Five staff were recently involved in an incident in which someone was stabbed (not a staff member). They explained it was emotionally traumatic – spent eight hours in the group homes where staff are injured several times a day. Check the WSIB reports; emotional trauma from specific incidents where children have seriously injured themselves. The work that is done needs to be recognized honestly and appropriate steps need to be put into place to keep people safe. Let’s remember, the union was formed for a reason.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As a child protection worker, I speak on behalf of my colleagues (and brothers and sisters) in saying we are passionate about the children and families we serve. We strive to demonstrate respect, empathy and accountability to the children and families we serve and each other, and to attend work regularly as regular attendance is critical to maintaining the highest quality and level of service expected in delivering care to the children and families of our community. However, quality of work is gravely impacted by high case loads and simply perpetuated by increased safety risks on the job.
    How would you feel if had a loved one told you their employer didn’t have protocols around their safety at work? Or if the employer knew there are safety risk but failed to commit to address them? Safety of workers, let me remind you, is not limited to in-home mould infestation, air-borne or communicable diseases, animals and pets in the home, hazardous objects, firearms and highly aggressive individuals with violent or drug misuse history. We are asking to be treated with dignity and respect as humans working with the most vulnerable population through fair contracts. I dare say I refuse to beg for it; I demand it.

  5. Kelli says:

    I cannot count the amount of times I have been assaulted by youths in my career. I have several serious, life- long injuries to deal with because of the assaults which does not include the threats, spitting, car damage as well as having my personnel file stolen by a youth with all of my personal information – complete violation of all of my rights. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what I have had to deal with. By far, one of the most dangerous jobs out there, yet we have to fight for protection. Doesn’t seem fair

  6. Irene Andrews says:

    I worked for different CAS agencies over the years for a total of almost 20 years. I was able to de-escalate many potentially violent situations, as I am sure the Peel staff do daily. However, even with my experience, I was twice threatened. Once, a client threatened to kill me and my baby and another client threatened to have my children abducted ‘like his were’. In both cases, the two different agencies responded by minimizing the threats – much like this ED is minimizing the risk his staff face daily. Of four agencies I worked for, only one had an ED that truly respected his staff as professionals. The others were more concerned about fiscal matters than about staff safety.
    The reality is that staff are expected to de-escalate routinely and by doing so, the very real threat they face is in turn, minimized by management. They walk into unknown situations with people who have a complaint that they are not coping or being abusive to children. These children must be protected and removed if necessary. How can this not be viewed as a safety issue in and of itself? The criteria should not be who got hurt, but rather how many potentially violent situations the staff face daily. Do we have to wait until a CAS worker is violently assaulted or killed before we recognize the inherent danger in the job?

  7. Karen says:

    It is hard to talk about specific workplace incidents where we have felt unsafe without feeling as though we are being “disloyal” to our clients. We are often dealing with people who are experiencing crises in their lives. There does not have to be “major violent incidents” to make us feel unsafe. I have personally experienced a child trying to hit me with a broom stick and a barbell from a weight set. I have had a parent verbally abuse me for 45 minutes while I was alone in his home. The same parent told me during a verbally abusive phone call that it was my job to “take this” from him. I know colleagues who have had their cars surrounded when going to pick up a child from school. Another colleague had a parent waiting for her after hours in the parking lot and followed her in his car. Not to mention the several incidents that staff working in residential homes experience on a daily basis, including having their cars damaged in the driveway.
    Perhaps these day-to-day incidents that frontline workers experience are not considered major incidents of violence, and do not make it all the way to the attention of Mr. Bains. Regardless, these incidents have major impacts on front line workers and contribute to stress, compassion fatigue and burnout.

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