The province moved a step closer Monday to having all its child, youth and family services transitioned from the Department of Health and Community Services to a separate government department.
Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services Charlene Johnson announced Monday the transferral of such services from Eastern Health to her department has been completed.
“We are confident we are undertaking the best approach that will rebuild and revitalize the system,” said Johnson.
The move comes following concerns raised by the public and workers within the system about how well it served the needs of children and youth.
After hiring 200 additional staff members since 2006, even Johnson admitted the status quo was not working, as she stated earlier this year to The Telegram.
She expects the move will allow the government to deal consistently with the varied problems facing children, families and youth requiring the department’s services.
“Different policies and the way we did things were different in each of the regions, so having one consistent policy across the province for all the children that we serve is critically important as we go forward,” said Johnson.
Monday’s announcement was made at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s, where the minister had earlier taken part in a briefing session with 300 employees affected by the move.
Johnson made note of the fact employees have played a big role in providing input contributing to the transition process, as has the Department of Justice.
Across the province, there will be 13 regional zone managers instead of five, which will improve the delegation of responsibilities, according to the minister.
There will also be additional social workers, frontline supervisors, social worker assistants and clerical staff.
The province plans to have one supervisor for every six social workers, and one social worker for every 20 clients of the department.
To help do so, Johnson said the department will look at cross-training opportunities for social workers to help ease their caseloads.
“There will be some social workers taking on additional cross-training and doing some things they didn’t do before, but it’s (about) the whole team approach and helping everybody out.”
The issue of changing responsibilities was of concern earlier this year to the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE). In March, union president Carol Furlong said “government acted arbitrarily and unilaterally in moving employees.”
At the time, she said the union was considering its legal options.
Johnson said her department has worked with NAPE on resolving the union’s issues with the move and is close to reaching an agreement.
Furlong could not be reached for comment.
Similar transitions were made earlier this year with Western Health and Central Health, and Johnson said services covered by Labrador-Grenfell Health will be transfered this winter.
Eastern rural staff were transitioned as of Oct. 31, while Monday officially brought employees from the St. John’s metro area and Conception Bay South into Johnson’s department. The move affects 407 employees, representing the largest transition amongst the four regions.
“It was more difficult (of a transition), but we have very dedicated staff and people who are committed to doing this,” she said. “There’s always going to be bugs that need to be worked out along the way, and that’s why I really stress to staff to communicate with us.”
Attention was also paid Monday to the consolidation of the provincial adoptions program under a single division. Johnson said the move will help get children in safe and caring homes.
The minister said the government will review its Adoption Act and look for ways to streamline the adoption process. It is also looking at approaches taken by other provinces.
Last year, 53 adoptions took place in Newfoundland and Labrador, a significant increase over recent years. The four-year average from 2006 to 2009 was 29. There are approximately 300 children being looked after under continuous custody by the provincial government.