Cuts to Brant Family and Children’s Services staff began this week after an upheaval in July saw the agency’s entire board resign and the former executive director escorted from the Chatham Street building.
Four unionized staff received layoff notices Tuesday and another seven people voluntarily resigned, retired or were laid off.
“It was not a great day,” said Jennifer Kirby, president of the CUPE, Local 181, which represents the agency’s workers.
“In addition to the cuts, areas of service have been affected.”
Kirby said a team that helps families through group decision-making was cut to one from three, two counselling positions and a worker who helps staff navigate the provincial reporting system also were eliminated.
She said the agency is leaving vacant some positions with hope they might be filled in the future. One is that of volunteer co-ordinator.
“That job was very important in the overall promotion of the agency and in recruiting foster parents,” said Kirby.
This week’s cuts come on top of a staff reduction of 29 last April under former executive director Andy Koster and board, which declared the agency could cut no further without jeopardizing the safety of children.
Kirby said she fear changes to the agency’s community-based service model also have begun, with satellite offices and services being moved or cut.
“It goes against our whole model of being a neighbour and being accessible. I’m really worried about the quality of service we’re going to be able to provide.”
Kirby said the agency has been working for years to focus on prevention rather than taking children into care.
“When you help families, so their kids don’t come into care, that’s good child welfare practice and investing in kids upfront. Child welfare is a pay now or pay later proposition.”
Kirby said there’s no assurance staff cuts are finished.
“People are worried they’re not going to be able to give families what they need to keep kids at home safely. All the reasons we came into child welfare in the first place are being set aside. People are worried, tired and anxious. This work is hard enough on a good day.”
Kirby noted that the agency remains without a confirmed budget from the province 5 1/2 months into its 2019-20 fiscal year.
“We’re working blindly. The budget could be less than what we’re expecting and that will impact our bottom line. Any given moment something could happen that will blow the budget out of the water.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said the agency’s budget will be finalized by the end of the week.
“Our top priority is that the children, youth and families who rely on Brant Family and Children’s Services continue to receive the support they need,” said Genevieve Oger.
She said all staffing decisions are made by Bernadette Gallagher, who was brought in on a one-year contract by the province as executive director after Koster was ousted.
Gallagher was seconded from the Children’s Aid of Haldimand-Norfolk, where she was executive director.
“I’ve made it my mission to truly understand child welfare and not just child protection,” said Gallagher, who worked for 15 years for Brant Children’s Aid Society, the forerunner of the Brant Family and Children’s Services, and at Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services in Brantford.
“My role here is to try and move the organization forward, bringing it to a place of a reconstituted board and getting them to a spot where they can recruit an ED.”
Gallagher said there is no plan to destroy the community-based system in Brant that has attracted interest from around the world.
“The community-based model supports families and allows them to do what’s most important and I anticipate us strengthening it. But we’re going to look at all our options and we’ll keep staff cuts as minimal as possible,” she said.
“It’s still early days.”
Kirby said Gallagher has been meeting with staff, getting feedback and trying to calm fears.
“Staff have been gracious and our community partners have been nothing but welcoming and those factors will help us find our way through all of this,” Gallagher said.
“This is a good and strong organization that will find its way forward.”