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While the current round of welfare reform has been successful when judged by the number of recipients who have moved off the welfare rolls and into some type of employment, concern still exists over the resilience of these recent gains if there is a futu

 

 

 

 

 

Family Support Worker Training Forum 2004

 

“Supporting Effective Relationships”

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Notes for Keynote Address

 

“Supporting Effective Relationships in Ontario Works’ Employment Assistance”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presented by

 

John Howley, President

 

Labour Market Partners Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Labour Market Partners Inc. 2004

 


Introduction and Focus of Remarks

 

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, provincial and municipal representatives and thank you for your warm welcome. 

 

It brings me great pleasure to join you here today.  The theme of this year’s training forum is, as you know, supporting effective relationships.  It is a theme for which I have a close affinity.  Life is, after all, a series of relationships, and those that endure and prosper are testament to why so many of us choose to work in the business of helping.  

 

Given my affinity for the topic, providing this address seemed (at the time of the request) a completely do-able task – to build bridges, so to speak, between the functions of family support and the broader employment goals of the Ontario Works program. 

 

As I delved further into developing this topic, I was humbled by the very task that I had willingly taken on.  I admit, I am feeling no small amount of pressure at this moment.  The pressure arises not so much from performance anxiety, but from the sheer scope of challenges that we face in serving the populations and individuals that require our help and my desire to use your valuable time wisely. 

In reflecting on this address, and pondering how we can connect family support to current themes in casework, I found myself contemplating my own employment history and the types of functions that characterize the employment focus that has dominated welfare reform.

 

I have been working for a long time in this business of helping.  I have been traveling this road since the days of Manpower and Immigration, which eventually became CEIC, then HRDC and now HSDC – a very long time indeed.  And over the years, I have nurtured a deep and abiding affection for all things social services and, more specifically, employment.

 

I have had the experience of wearing a number of hats: Manpower Counsellor Trainee, Community Liaison Officer, Immigration Liaison, Employment Counsellor, Counsellor on Campus, Mobility Counsellor, Special Programs Counsellor, Adult Education Co-ordinator, and, perhaps my favourite -- Co-ordination Co-ordinator – and on through Work Activity Supervisor, Manager, and Director.

 

 

It’s been a winding road, to be sure, but one filled with the rewards that I think only come from public service.   It is an honour and a privilege to be asked to share my views with you, to attempt to carry a flag forward that may symbolize our needs and aspirations, a challenging task indeed on this, my first intrusion upon your proceedings.

 

As Will Rogers said, “we are all ignorant, only on different subjects.”  I am hopeful that my remarks may help build connections between the family support function and creating Participant self-sufficiency.  And self-sufficiency has been the need and aspiration of virtually every Sole-Support Parent I have had the pleasure to work with.

 

I have been blessed with good fortune and the pleasure of working with hundreds, perhaps thousands of Caseworkers, Family Support Workers, Administrative Staff, OW Supervisors and Managers, and many community and not-for-profit agency workers and advocates, among the dedicated flock who habitate this most challenging of service fields- helping others to achieve social and financial security.

 

Most recently I have had the honour of participating in the creation and delivery of the Advanced Case Management and Development program, known affectionately throughout the province as ACMDP, a comprehensive skills development program for OW staff and management.

 

And I have worked with Sole-Support Parents for as long as I have worked in Social Services, starting my career in social services as the supervisor of an employment counselling program for Sole-Support Parents, called ASPIRE.

 

ASPIRE just as a title- and it was a wonderful and very effective program- is an homage not only to the values of our organizations- aspiring as we do to help others out of poverty, but also to our love of acronyms.  “Assisting Single Parents in Reaching Employment” is what ASPIRE stood for, and it lived up to that promise.   I think of that first area of my responsibility as the right word to frame this address.  I ask the question, “To what should we aspire in developing our capacities in family support?”, a concept that touches about 40% of all cases receiving Financial Assistance through Ontario Works.

 

It seems like a long time ago since I began that job, but it is has been just 20 years.  Half of that time, ten years already, have passed since the GWA program began to be dismantled in favour of what became OW.  I began by exploring first what FSWs do in general, then in greater detail.  Then I took a close look at what is now the Sole-Support Parent caseload, and what has been happening in the seven and a half years since I left my job in GWA. 

 

The trend to OW was well underway when I departed public service in 1997.  Sole-Support Parent cases were being transferred to municipal delivery agents, and within a year the new Ontario Works Act was proclaimed into legislation.

 

The next topic of my research was, “What issues have emerged since?”  Having kept in touch professionally with OW staff, I was well aware of the transitions that single mothers, as 94% of all single parents on OW are, have been directed to undertake, no longer provided with the financial security, however inadequate, of a long-term allowance for parenting.

 

Indeed, in 1997 I was surprised at how little media attention was paid to the seismic shift in funding policy for Sole-Support Parents.  Aside from the well-documented and much commented-upon reduction in rates, the new policies and procedures did not seem to spark a significant public debate.  Behind the scenes, however, all of the organizations affected by the policy shift to the right have worked diligently: OW staff and municipalities across the Province, not-for-profit service organizations, MCSS and other ministries, OMSSA, to name but several of the key stakeholders. 

 

Of course, legislative and policy change has not been restricted to Ontario. All other Provincial and Territorial governments have been facing the same challenges, as Western governments of all stripes sought to stem the rising costs and appear fiscally responsible to an increasingly annoyed community of taxpayers.

 

This New Economy, the paring down of social transfer costs and other social and economic realities, has had enormous impact on your work, and on the conditions and challenges faced by those on the receiving end of the program.

 

It is, then, not surprising that there are many, many new issues that connect themselves to the topic of “Family Support” and Ontario Works, some which have been around since I started my career in this field, and several that are emerging.

 

If I am to succeed at all today, I will be able to share some observations that have arisen from my experience, and to connect this important theme of effective relationships to the mandate and the day-to-day work of municipal and provincial staff in OW.  I would also be pleased if the recent experiences I have had in working with FSWs, Caseworkers and their management teams in case management practices may help shed some light on pathways we may pursue to make social inclusion and economic self-sufficiency a feature of the results of our work with OW Participants. 

 

The key question, I think, is this: “How may we improve upon the work that we do to achieve these two goals on behalf of our constituent clients: greater social inclusion and economic self-sufficiency?”

 

Staff roles in social assistance have been constantly changing.  The work of  FSWs, of Caseworkers and Supervisors has changed irrevocably and this level of change is very likely to continue.  The work of delivery organizations is under increasing scrutiny from within as the culture of OW develops and we learn from our achievements- and from that which we find not to be fruitful.

 

The delivery system itself is a key variable in how we may improve upon the results of the social assistance program, in how enhancements to the lives of our charges - and to our own lives in the process - may be achieved.

 

Work has changed for staff whose shortened titles reflect a lexicon of alpha-designations: CWs, CSs, CVPs, EROs, CPOs, ESs, ESSs, - which highlights some of the changes undertaken by the Human Resources Departments of our delivery system.  Further inspection of employment programs would reveal a further variety of job titles that might lead you to seek professional de-acromynization.  (This is a process where real language is made to replace verbal and written shorthand, the better to generate common understanding.)

 

So I come here with an ambitious agenda - to link the ideas and realties that are part of this workshop series, in a manner that might point toward our being able to better support the families we serve, and to foster relationships that will result in meaningful, positive changes in our clients’ lives, especially regarding the pathway to employment.  In whatever form this may take, permit me the indulgence of requesting your vigilance in overcoming that illness that afflicts all of us when the work problems we face seem overwhelming and impossible: Hardening of  the Categories.

 

Much has been written about Supporting Families and the relationships that characterize our delivery of social assistance in Ontario, especially as it affects Sole-Support Parents.  I have looked to separate fact from fiction, to examine staff roles, and those of other stakeholders, not least of all the OW Participants.

 

It is my hope that we may extend our reach by finding those small but infinitely better ways to work that may lead us not to perfection, that most exhausting of goals, but to improvement.  It is in small measures that we may achieve great things.  It is only right, of course, to ask improvement of ourselves, as it is what we seek and hope for in those we serve.

 

A Shift in Vision

As you can see, I have been around long enough to see many of the changes that have characterized Ontario’s welfare system since I started my career in human services (ahem) thirty years ago.

 

While many believe that the shift in thinking around social assistance began in earnest only after the introduction of “workfare” (and I have quotes on that in my notes here), but this is something of an overstatement.

 

Conditionality has been a feature of Ontario’s social safety net since the formal undertakings of state-delivered welfare were established after World War II. 

 

Many of the employment assistance activities available to OW Participants today were pioneered by the Province and its municipal delivery partners in the 60s, and increasingly, in the 70s and 80s.

 

The more experienced staff among us will recall another alphabet soup of programs: ESI, YSI, WIN, JobsO, Work Activity, and so on.  

 

Much to-do was made in the early 1980s when the policy of labeling Sole-Support Parents as unemployable was dropped in favour of an employable designation.  On my second day on the job in Toronto, a community advocate told me that we would be ill-advised to renege on our promise not to make participation in ESI - one of Ontario’s most successful and influential programs for Sole-Support Parents- mandatory.  Despite our assurances that there appeared to be no such intention, she and her colleagues told me in no uncertain terms that they would track me down at my home address and arrange an infestation of insects -  the better, they claimed, to sharpen my perception of  the realties of life on FBA for a single mom in T.O.

 

To our great credit, there remains no single program that is obligatory, save for LEAP, and even then but for the youngest of Participants. And LEAP, even from our sternest critics, earns accolades.

 

Yet, it must also be recognized that serious, that is to say large-scale, welfare reform began in this Province, and indeed in all of the provinces and territories in Canada, not to mention the U.S. and other Western nations in the 1990s.

 

The confluence of change that took root in the last decade had its roots in recession and economic stagnation, in soaring public costs, in an irritated taxpaying electorate and in deficits that threatened in some cases to end social programs forever.  Visions of New Zealand’s brink-of-disaster economy were provided to Cabinet Ministers and caucuses throughout this country and among all Western nations.

 

The factors that were contributing to unprecedented caseload growth were then and remain now complex, some controllable, many others the features of socio-economic changes domestically, and in unsettled and dangerous conditions in other countries of the world.  The status quo did not appear to be an option.

 

 

The 1990s Paradigm Shift in Welfare Systems

 

 

Old Paradigm                                     New Paradigm

 

Entitlement                                                        Shortest route to employment

 

Conditions for ‘employables’                           Mandatory participation for all

 

Support to parents                                     Support to families

 

Ongoing case review- financial                        Comprehensive Verification Process

Ongoing case monitoring for employment

 

In-house delivery system                         Multi-faceted delivery system

 

SuperWorkers                                                  Specialized staff

 

Fixed income                                                    Transitional supports

 

Longer-term                                                     Temporary

 

Financial needs assessment                               Employment needs assessment      

 

Passive employment measures                      Active employment measures

 

 

 

The impact of these changes is a much more complex delivery system:

 

 

Old Paradigm                                     New Paradigm

 

Assess size of job search list                           Negotiate customized employment activities

 

Explore the few services available                       Assess effectiveness of a customized P.A.

 

Bureaucracy delivers all services                        Community-based organizations intervene

 

 

Other models emerged in the same time frame.  The United States, for example, passed in 1996 - under a Democratic administration- a welfare reform act called, onerously, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.  The Act required state conformance to the Act’s broad requirements, which emphasize participation in the workplace and time-limited receipt of benefits.

 

 

Temporary Aid to Needy Families

 

 

Maximum 60 months of assistance

 

A state may use TANF funds to help up to 20% of the caseload after 60 months

 

Extensions based on hardship or domestic violence

 

Some state funds are protected from the 60 month limit (75% - 80% of prior years’ state spending on social assistance, called Maintenance of Effort funds)

 

States may customize programs and supports, including time-limit exemptions and extensions.

 

The option for state flexibility has led to creative exemptions

 

Most state exemptions apply only when a child of the recipient is less than 24 months old

 

Illinois stops the clock for any month in which a parent reaches 20 hours of earnings a week

 

Maine stops the clock in half of its counties due to labour market circumstances

 

Missouri stops the clock for families participating in the state’s subsidized employment program

 

Delaware has a 48-week time limit, which stops if the state unemployment rate exceeds 7.5%

 

 

 

 

Americans are seeking solutions to the conundrum that the time-limit has imposed.  While single parent caseloads in the U.S. fell as much as 84% (e.g., as Wisconsin claimed) in the latter half of the 1990s, advocates are quick to point out that improvements, such as were effected in Medicare, child care, the food stamps program and in policies on earned income exemptions, have helped to stem the impact on poverty and reduce dependency on the cash aid program.  Critics also point out that child poverty is on the rise, and that only a small percentage of clients who leave the system because of sanctions (about one in four) obtain subsequent employment, thus deepening poverty and its effects on children.

 

The U.S. is also concerned about the impact of the jobs recession on welfare recipient employment. Since 2000, the percentage of single mothers who are employed has decreased, from 73% in 2000 to under 70% in 2003, negatively disproportionate to the decline in employment of all parents and the overall working age population.  This is in stark contrast to the 11%-plus increase in single parent employment that accompanied the U.S. policy change in time-limits up to the end of 1999.

 

Part of the reason for the decline has been the decline in jobs in the low-end employment sectors that have been employing American single parents on the TANF program.  These industries are retail trade, the single largest sector employing welfare recipients in America, manufacturing, temporary help services, the hotel and hospitality industry, and the home and health care sector.

 

An examination of Ontario’s single-led families and where they head for employment may therefore be instructive.

 

 

Who’s Who in OW:  Sole Support Parents

 

 

The ‘40% Solution’:

 

            Sole-Support Parents: 40% of caseload

76% of children on OW

           

Sole-Support Parents by gender: Females             60% of overall caseload

94% of Sole-Support Parents caseload

           

Age:     88% of Sole-Support Parents are under 45 years of age (prime working age)

                       

More than half (56%) are under 35 years of age

                       

One in five is under 25

 

Debunking Myths and Stereotypes

 

            81% of Sole-Support Parents have only 1 or 2 children

 

Sole-Support Parents have education achievements identical to the rest of the OW caseload

 

More than half have completed high school or have post-secondary training or

            education

           

One in five of all Sole-Support Parent cases has some post-secondary education

 

            About 90% of the Sole-Support Parent caseload is educated to the literacy level

 

           

 

An Urban Phenomenon

 

Two-thirds of the Sole-Support Parent caseload live in urban areas (GTA and Major Ontario Cities)

 

Ottawa and Toronto account for almost half of the Sole-Support Parent caseload in Ontario

 

Four out of five Sole-Support Parent cases do not have access to public housing

 

75% pay private sector market rents on their accommodations

 

 

Generally, Sole-Support Parents stay on assistance 20% longer than other OW cases.

 

Average Length of Stay on Assistance

 

            All OW cases:            21 months

           

Sole-Support Parent cases:            25 months

 

Exits from OW within one year:

 

54% of all cases

 

42 % of Sole-Support Parent cases

 

Exits from OW within two years:

 

72% of all cases

 

60% of Sole-Support Parent cases

 

 

More Sole-Support Parent cases generate more earned income than the rest of the OW caseload, and their earnings are slightly higher overall (by about 5%).

 

            22% of Sole-Support Parent cases generate earned income

 

Overall caseload average of cases generating income: 17%.

 

(This is also reflective of the STEP rules, which favour larger families.)

 

Nor does the presence of young children in the caseload preclude earnings.

 

            Of all Sole-Support Parent cases with earned income, one-third have children under 5 years of age. 

 

 

Half of the wage earners have children between the ages of 5 and 12

 

 

20% have older children (above the age of 12).

 

However, the greater the length of time on assistance, the less the chance of earning income.   This is true for all OW cases.

 

 

            Only 1% of all cases with earned income have been on assistance more than 3 years.

 

About half (52%) of Sole-Support Parent earned income cases have been on OW one year or less, compared to 60% of the overall caseload. 

 

The other 40% – 50% of OW earners are on assistance between 2 and 3 years.

 

 

There are many reasons why we need to be concerned about the Sole-Support Parent population on OW in the strongest terms of attention and response.

 

First, Sole-Support Parents are the single most identifiable, homogenous group in receipt of Financial Assistance.  While each case is, of course, unique, Sole-Support Parents also share a set of common needs as a group of parents, as homemakers, as workers and as learners.  Service delivery solutions and improvements may be found to apply to significant numbers of individual cases, thus having an exponential cost-benefit and benefits in socio-economic and physical and mental health terms.

 

In human terms of morality, justice and equity, we can do ourselves no better favour than to examine the needs of Sole-Support Parents closely indeed, and to work at making case management improvements that will so surely have a profound positive effect.

 

In researching this subject, I encountered a very powerful commentary on the plight of Sole-Support Parents receiving Financial Assistance.  The City of Toronto conducted two studies (1997/8 and 2003) that portray conditions that may characterize much of the Sole-Support Parent population as a whole.  Despite the limited geography of the respondents to the study, there are few such studies available in Canada, and the results are most noteworthy.


 

 

Evidence of the Hardships Faced by many Sole-Support Parents

 

66% said they have run out of food

 

Half have used food banks

 

One in four had her phone disconnected

 

One in five was evicted or received an eviction notice

 

Two out of three report multiple such hardships

 

71% state they cannot afford to support their children in extracurricular sports or learning activities

 

Fewer than half have a computer in their home

 

 

Fear

 

Nearly one in three had personally experienced violence or abuse

 

One in five had experienced sexual harassment

 

More than one in four felt unsafe walking alone in their community

 

More than one in three believed that their community was an unsafe place to raise children

 

 

 


Among the study’s observations:

 

 

“… The dynamic nature of [a] competitive knowledge-based economy has led to rising entry thresholds and increased demand for highly educated and technically adept workers.  These changing labour market demands require qualifications that many single parents have not had the opportunity to acquire.”

            Social Assistance & Social Exclusion Toronto Community & Neighbourhood Services p. 23

 

 

“ A program that encourages single parents to move rapidly into the labour market without adequately helping them to address the multiple obstacles they are confronting will have little ongoing success …Longer-term strategies that recognize the importance of education and skills upgrading, together with the supports that make work a viable alternative to social assistance, are needed to assist single parents in stabilizing their lives and securing sustainable employment”.

 

            -Social Assistance & Social Exclusion, Toronto Community & Neighbourhood Services

 

 

There is strong evidence that a significant number of Sole-Support Parents are harder to employ than other cases.  Ineffectiveness at improving employability strikes at the heart of the purpose and objectives of Ontario Works.  Failing to prevent long-term dependency is not only antithetical to the values of social assistance in Ontario, negative effects- some irreversible- are very likely to be experienced by the children of these OW Participants.

 

Hard to Employ Status of Sole-Support Parents

 

Cases on OW longer than 2 years:

All cases: 28 %

                    Sole-Support Parent cases: 40%

=  43% greater than the overall caseload

 

Of the hardest to employ cases, Sole-Support Parents are statistically-speaking, at least, no worse off than the rest of the caseload:

 

7% of all OW cases and all Sole-Support Parent cases remain on assistance longer than 5 years.

 

Sole-Support Parents:  Socio-Economic Realities

 

The City of Toronto studies reveal critical data about the realities that Sole-Support Parents face in their daily lives.  The data, while restricted geographically, illustrates many of the issues and the gravity of the plight of Sole-Support Parents on OW. 

 

 

You certainly don't need to be in receipt of welfare to be in a financial predicament as a female worker in Canada.  Low income earners are predominantly female.  According to Stats Canada:

 

Almost 7 out of 10 workers in Canada making less than $8.00 an hour are women

 

80% of all single-led families are female-led

 

7% of Ontario families live in poverty

 

38% of all Ontario single mothers live in poverty (35% in Canada)

 

 

There is also an increasing diversity of Sole-Support Parents for some municipalities.  In Toronto, which manages over 70% of GTA Sole-Support caees, over two-thirds of Sole-Support Parents on OW were not born in Canada (69%). 15% of these are refugees.  Language and cultural issues are prominent in all communities where diverse populations may be found, no longer a phenomenon unique to cities.

 

Sole-Support Parents want to work, can work and do work.  In the most recent Toronto study, nearly 8 out of 10 cases on OW have worked at some point.  And at the time of Toronto’s study last year, half were engaged in volunteer activities.  This is true even though nearly one in two Sole-Support Parent cases (46%) are eligible for deferral from participation requirements (children under 5 years of age).

 

Caseload reduction since 1995 has been extraordinary, with a 59% caseload decline in Sole-Support Parents.  This may be due in large part of the economic unfeasibility of OW for Sole-Support Parents.  In real dollars, OW benefit rates fell 35% when the 1995 reduction of 21.6% and inflationary impact of 14% from 1995 – 2003 are taken into account.

 

Another major contributor to the caseload reduction is economic growth over the same period, led by Ontario in many sectors, and the consequent job growth that Ontario has experienced.  Post 9-11 before tax profits in Corporate Canada are up 49% ($60 billion).  GDP in this country has increased 17% over the same period.

 

 

Yet, despite the economic growth that has occurred every year in Ontario since 1993, there is evidence that Sole-Support Parents suffer considerably and disproportionately as members of this Province’s labour force.

 


Where Sole-Support Parents Work

 

In low-paying jobs, primarily.  Sustainable employment is a serious issue for these clients when they are on assistance, and-  without interventions-  when they leave OW.  80% of employment cited by Sole-Support Parents on OW in the 2003 Toronto survey was in general labour, retail sales, clerical work, food services, and child care comprised.

 

 

How much do they make? 

 

77% reported earnings from employment at less than $26K a year.

And their barriers to employment appear to be on the rise.

 

Sole-Support Parents’ Barriers to Employment

 

99% of Sole-Support Parents in the 2003 Toronto study reported having barriers to employment

 

Almost in 9 in 10 acknowledged more than five obstacles

 

Over a five-year span between the Toronto studies of Sole-Support Parents receiving OW, self-reported drug and alcohol problems increased over five-fold.

 

1997-8:             2.5% reported drug or alcohol problems

2003:               14% reported these as issues

 

Experience of discrimination doubled

 

Reports of chronic poor health increased from 26% of the GWA/FBA respondents to more than 40% of the OW respondents

 

Personal experience of violence and abuse rose almost three-fold, from 11% to nearly one in three (30%)

 

 

Employment and other social factors that result in exclusion from mainstream Canadian life

 

Current research into the socio-economic and personal characteristics that result in long-term unemployment supports the fact that being hard to employ is not merely, nor even contingent upon, the presence of ‘employment barriers’, that old catch-all phrase that we use all too often to label the most unfortunate among us.

 

On the contrary, having an employment barrier is not in itself a factor for becoming Hard to Employ. Without naming names here, I am certain, statistically-speaking at least, that there are among us here people with addictions, people with mental health issues, people experiencing family breakdown, people with serious illnesses, those who have poor work attitudes, and others with myriad other afflictions and attributes.

 

Characteristics of Hard to Employ people have been well researched, and we learn something valuable from this research.  It is not employment barriers per se, that make someone hard to employ.  Rather it is what I call the “Please reply” model of hard to employ:

 

What Hard to Employ Means

           

Restricted by

Severe

Voluminous and

Persistent barriers

(R.S.V.P.)

 

What do we know of the OW cases that demonstrate ‘Hard to Employ’ characteristics?  Firstly, their problems tend to fall into multiple barriers from the following menu of social and personal ills that these Participants are more likely to have:

 

Factors in Combination Which Lead to Hard to Employ Status

 

o       Low self-esteem and depression

 

o       Mental health problems

 

o       Lack of transportation

 

o       Housing instability

 

o       Long-term unemployment and receipt of social assistance

 

o       Low education levels

 

o       Learning disorders

 

o       Substance addictions

 

o       Prior criminal convictions

 

o       Physical limitations

 

o       Minimal employment experience

 

 

Here is a list of information, referral and / or support needs presented by one work team of Ontario Caseworkers as typical resources and information needs of a Sole-Support Parent Participant on OW:

 

Typical Resources and Information Needs of a Sole-Support Parent Participant on OW

 

Child Care Information

Parenting Programs

Vocational Counselling Programs

Employment Preparation and Support Programs

Training and Development Programs

Labour Market Information

Employment Start-Up Funds

Employment-Related Expenses

Family Resource and Recreation Resources

STEP information

Debt and Budget Management Assistance

Personal Counselling

Transition Assistance

Community Start-Up Funds information

Legal Clinic Information

Access to Inexpensive Food and Clothing

Personal, Family and Emotional Counselling and Supports

Housing Support

-Source: Jana Slivka, Caseworker, ACMDP Participant, Ottawa, October 4, 2004

 

These are, of course, in addition to the information and update needs associated with the Financial Assistance component of the OW program, which Caseworkers state already takes the vast majority of their case management time.

 

The scope and complexity of this list both inspires my pride in the vast capabilities of social services staff and alerts me to the immense skill and knowledge requirements to perform the job effectively.

 

The City of Toronto study of Sole-Support Parents in receipt of OW articulates very well the socio-economic and exclusionary realities of the single-parent caseload:


 

“ … Understanding the experience of exclusion by low income single parents is key to formulating policy responses that will improve the circumstances not only of single parents on OW, but also promote positive outcomes for their children.”

 

Social Assistance and Social Exclusion: Findings from Toronto Social Services’ 2003 Survey of single parents on Ontario Works; Toronto Community and Neighbourhood Services, 2003.

                       

 

Child Development

 

Among the greater motivations for attending to the needs of Sole-Support Parents is the impact of poverty on children.

 

 

Impact of Poverty on Children

 

“Consequences of poor childhood development can include restricted brain development; reduced language development, capacity to communicate and literacy; and poorer physical and mental health throughout life.”

 

“Addressing three broad areas of intervention would likely improve early childhood development outcomes in Canada:

 

            -Ensuring adequate income

 

            -Supporting effective parents and families

 

            -Creating supportive community environments”

 

-Source: Improving the Health of Canadians, Canadian Population Health Initiative, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ottawa, 2004, p. 53

 

 

Among the greatest social concerns we ought to attend on behalf of Hard to Employ clients and their children is their exclusion from community and social participation.  Exclusion, according to social scientists, occurs in many dimensions, and is related not only to employment, though of course this is a principal contributor, but to a wide range of phenomena that characterize the lives of many Sole-Support Parents on OW and of other disadvantaged groups and individuals.

 

Exclusion is what happens when individuals suffer from a combination of linked problems.  These linked problems include unemployment, poor work skills, low income from work, inadequate housing situated in high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown.  This exclusion takes several forms:


 

 

 

Forms of Exclusion

 

Economic exclusion

 

            Low income, low skill work

 

                        Cyclical or long-term unemployment

 

                        Lack of consumption capacity

 

                        Debt

 

Community exclusion

 

Limited social networks

 

            Limited community participation

 

            Low civic engagement

 

Subjective exclusion

 

            Feelings of helplessness, powerlessness

 

            Lack of control to effect positive change

 

Spatial exclusion

 

            Poor neighbourhoods

 

            Inadequate housing

 

            Poor transportation access

 

            Few needed services available (e.g. child care, employment services)

 

 

 


New Directions in Serving Hard to Employ Cases

 

New directions are needed to build upon the successes we have already seen in Ontario and in Canada in reducing the dependency of Sole-Support Parents on social assistance and to respond to what we are learning about the effects of exclusion on this most vulnerable of populations. What can be done to manage our cases better, to obtain better results that might reduce exclusion?

 

Much has been learned in our research over the past several years about effective case management.

 

Research in case management techniques and strategies reveals models for intervention that at first glance may seem counter-intuitive.  Let’s take a look at assumptions and methods that have been proven effective in dealing with Hard to Employ cases.

 

New Approaches to Serve Hard to Employ Cases

 

 

The ‘One-Start” Service Model:  Everybody in the delivery system is responsible and accountable for supporting the Participant

 

Not all cases require interventions or ‘advanced’ case management techniques

 

You can only start where the Participant is at (corollary:  You can only learn today what you already knew)

 

The skills of individual staff members (e.g., Caseworkers, FSWs, Employment Support Specialists, Administrative Services staff) are possibly the most important variable and are vastly important to making Participant interventions meaningful and effective

 

The ‘Not Walt’ factor:  No One Technique Works All the Time (nor any one program, service, framework, model or approach)

 

Case Management Theory of Inverse Proportion of Services (Case Management TIPS):

The greater the severity, volume, and persistence of barriers to inclusion, the smaller the initial steps toward achieving self-sufficiency

 

It helps to think in activities as precursors to formal programs

 

Use an asset-based approach, not a focus on deficits or barriers

 

Use an elicitive and supportive approach, rather than a directive and ‘expert’ approach

 

Success in the most challenging cases will be achieved not from a quantum breakthrough, rather through ‘small steps’ that demonstrate the possibility for change

 

Skilled interviewing in case management is an ‘ethical form of manipulation’.

 

Before we get too startled at this concept, so is parenting. Not to suggest we want to parent any cases, quite the contrary.  These modern strategies are intended to effect client independence, working from a position of respect and interest in the Participant, and designed to promote and celebrate goals and achievements commensurate with each individual’s current capacity, needs and interests.

 

Interviewing is a skill comprised of selected, thoughtful use of Universal and Composite skills.


 

Universal Interviewing Skills include

 

Alternate use of open-ended and closed questions to promote engagement, sustain focus and obtain results

 

Demonstrating sustained interest and respect in the Participant

 

Giving encouragement

 

Seeking and providing validation by

 

Questioning

 

Paraphrasing

 

Summarizing

 

Mirroring

 

 

Composite Interviewing and Case Management Skills include

 

Strategic interview planning

Probing

Eliciting

Negotiating

Handling conflict and resistance

Ethically confronting performance problems

Coaching

Assessing the relative intensity and relevance of Participant issues(triage)

Adapting behaviour according to interview circumstances

Using EQ- Emotional Intelligence

            Self-awareness

            Self-control

            Sensitivity to the needs of others

                        Motivation to Perform

                        Ability to establish healthy relationships

 

 

What are the implications of this approach for FSWs and other staff whose relationship with the client (or the case manager) may impact on positive outcomes?

 

Lessons Learned about Employability and Social Assistance

 

What we know about employment and employability is also deserving of examination, given that this is among the principal thrusts of Ontario Works, and among the most valuable of its services.  The lessons learned are adapted from Reconnecting Social Assistance Recipients to the Labour Market: Lessons Learned Final Report; Human Resources Development Canada, March 2000. 

 

While the spirit and facts of the federal government’s findings are respected, changes have been made to original text.


 

Lesson 1:  The Importance of Legislation and Policy in Effecting Independence

Legislative and regulatory changes are necessary conditions to reduce the number of cases

They are not sufficient conditions to promote economic independence

 

Alone, these changes have been insufficient for promoting Participant economic independence.  Both short and long-term interventions are needed to facilitate their clients' transition to paid employment.

 

Legislation in Ontario strongly reinforces the participation requirements, and provides Caseworkers, FSWs and other staff with the strengths and legal tools necessary to ensure program integrity.  However, the language of welfare reform may have led to a polarization of perception, both by staff and OW Participants. 

 

Staff tell me frequently that they encounter two major types of Participants early in their work with the Municipality:

1) Where is my Community Placement (or job, training program), and

2) Why are you picking on me?

 

Much work needs to be done to create a perception at all levels - among staff, with our community partners, to advocates, employers and among our current and prospective clients, that while there are strong legal supports for the conditionality that has been and remains a part of eligibility for OW, the Employment Assistance component of OW is a direct and substantial benefit to those who need assistance, and is engineered as a customized, participant-centred, community-focused and negotiable agreement meant to effect positive and enduring change to improve the quality of life for Participants and families, and of benefit most especially for their children.

Lesson 2:  Who is ‘Employable’

Defining "employability" is difficult

Three major categories are common:

Job ready- those with work experience and education

Training ready- those whose personal situation allows them to participate in training

Hard to Employ (Multiple barriers) - personal and family problems preclude short-term participation in training or work

Debate exists about the effectiveness of these assessments.

 

Lesson 3:  Shortest Route to Re-Application?

Rapid start employment strategies appear to have limited long-term impacts.

Given the doubt surrounding employability assessments, the labour market may serve as the real test of a client's employability.

Evaluation data on short-term programs, such as job search training, résumé preparation, interviewing skills and direct job placement suggest that clients with low education and family/personal barriers are not likely to earn sufficient wage increases to raise them out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.

Lesson 4:  Work Experience Programs

Work experience programs are most effective when they are:

Temporary

Focus on marketable skills acquisition, and

Support clients in resolving personal issues

 

These programs are more effective when combined with education and on-the-job training.  These strategies are best considered as a first-step toward sustainable employment

Lesson 5:  Long-term Labour Force Attachment

 

Long-term strategies may mean supporting social assistance clients over an extended period of time in return for sustainability.  While more study of CP is needed to assess its overall effectiveness especially in recidivism, past MCS studies have illustrated that:

Lesson 5:  Long-term Labour Force Attachment

No single employment intervention is effective on its own merits in creating sustainable independence

To be effective, employment interventions need to cover the continuum of services

They must also allow Participants to participate according to their needs and capabilities

 

Lesson 6:  Earned Income Policies

Earned income policies encourage employment

Increasing earned income exemptions, tax credits and subsidies are proven “independence generators”

We need to review current policy and seek to expand these initiatives for the benefit of Sole-Support Parents

 

Lesson 7:  Education and Sustainable Employment

Education is necessary for moving beyond low-wage jobs

Better educated individuals have:

A lower incidence of unemployment

Greater hours worked

Higher earnings per hour, and

Less reliance on OW

We must continue to invest and expand our public investment in these critical areas

 

 

 

Lesson 8:  Training and Employer Linkages

Training programs that link with employers assist the welfare-to-work process, provided that additional supports are in place

Programs with strong labour market linkages can fail if adequate supports are not provided

Job-training programs that provide intensive supports have had significant income increases for the participants, when tested across a range of programs

 

Lesson 9:  Collateral Support Programs

Child care support and employment subsidies are essential to the low-wage work often associated with welfare reform.

These supports are needed by low-income families generally as well as social assistance families specifically

Child care, transportation, work expenses, and personal counselling supports are an essential complement to welfare reform

 

Lesson 10:  Changes to the Delivery System

The integration of social assistance, employment services, and training programs increases the effectiveness of service delivery

Single delivery networks can increase the success of welfare reform

Accessing a range of services through a single delivery network facilitates earlier placement of social assistance participants into an employment stream immediately

Integrated delivery is an important step toward changing client perceptions about their obligations to find work

Co-location does not automatically lead to a seamless integration of social assistance programming

 

Delivery system changes will be vital to effecting the transition to employment, especially as the economy continues to increase the demands of and qualifications for work.

Lesson 11:  Attitudinal and Cultural Change

Attitudinal and cultural change within the administrative structure is essential

Two levels of change are needed to effect a true “welfare reform”:

Attitudinal changes among Participants as individuals

Changed attitudes within ‘the system’.

 

A need is emerging to examine and change the role of front-line staff to support success in promoting sustainable independence.  In this cost-conscious generation, to assist clients with becoming more independent we need to develop programs that respond to local needs, especially the needs of local employers.  This last point has required that governments, businesses, and educational institutions work in partnerships to best serve.


Recommendations

 

Following the above findings and observations, I respectfully submit to you ten recommendations, with a brief commentary on each.

 

Recommendation 1

Develop a portfolio approach to case management

 

Develop a portfolio approach to case management, which FSWs and other staff handling the case from a Family Support or any other perspective (e.g. financial Caseworkers) would contribute to in the form of:

 

Setting case objectives in accordance with developmental principles

Documenting Participant activities and achievements according to each individual’s current capacity

 

Recommendation 2

Establish Case Management skills, values and principles to guide case management in all front-line staff functions, including FSWs

 

The values and philosophy embodies should be reflective of modern and proven strategies for helping those Participants most challenged by the system.  This includes:

 

Use of Universal and Composite interview and case management skills

Recognizing individual Participants’ needs, issues and capacities

Encouraging Participant independence in action planning and execution

 

Recommendation 3

Work toward reducing the silo effect in case management

 

The need for staff specialization since the introduction of OW is no surprise given the complexity of each program component, Financial Assistance and Employment Assistance.

 

The downside of this development is not only the demise of the ‘SuperWorker’, who can do it all, but the creation of silos of activity, goals, functions and achievements.

 

The problems that silos create in OW include the following:

 

Silos create

Participant isolation

Overlap and duplication of work

Confusion to the Participant

Role conflicts

Conflicting styles

Lost opportunities for Participant successes

Poor documentation of needs and progress

Lost productivity

 

 

Recommendation 4

Explore how front-line staff can work in harmony as case managers

 

Explore how front-line staff can work in harmony as case managers attending to the following Dimensions of Participant Employability:

 

Dimensions of Participant Employability

            Goal Setting

            Skills Development

Moving toward Goal Achievement

Maintaining Independence

Developing Generic Work Skills

Managing Personal Affairs effectively

Developing Teamwork Skills

 

Recommendation 5

Link the FSW function more clearly to the Employment Assistance component

 

The cost-benefits of obtaining financial support from ex-spouses are well documented, and the program is partly funded for and motivated by cost-recovery of OW funds.

 

There is a need, in my view, to build clearer links between the Family Support function and Employment Assistance functions.  For example, much of what a Sole-Support Parent achieves in obtaining support may contribute to her employability, according to terms identified by employers.

 

For example, here are some of the skills identified by the Conference Board of Canada as pre-requisites for obtaining work and succeeding in the workplace:

 

 

A Taxonomy of Skills Required to Obtain Work and Succeed in the Workplace

Communication skills

Ability to manage information

Problem-Solving

Facility with numbers and data

Analytical thinking

Willingness to learn

Responsibility and accountability

Adaptability to people and situations

Respect for workplace safety

Teamwork and cooperation

 

 


Recommendation 6

Develop a competency-based model for the Community Participation program to flag identification of developmental goals

 

CP has demonstrated its wonderful potential to help participants, and most particularly isolated, under-educated and under-skilled Sole-Support Parents.  CP helps Participants to access the workplace, to develop networks and to learn and apply skills.

 

CP hosts should be required, as may be already in place in Best Practice situations across Ontario, to identify a training plan that specifies skills and knowledge to be acquired by the Participant.

 

Attention to skills identified in the Employability Skills Taxonomy would likely improve Participant prospects.

 

Recommendation 7

Undertake a review of how Participant goals, activities and achievements in the Family Support program contribute to employability development and may be shared with other staff sharing case management responsibilities

 

 

Recommendation 8

Pilot a One-Start Service model

 

Pilot a One-Start Service model that engages all front-line staff, from Administrative Support to FSWs and Caseworkers, in managing and documenting Sole-Support Parent cases according to advanced case management principles and methods. One-Start service is designed to create universal access through any-staff-initiation of requested and necessary services.  It is not always necessary to change staff roles in service delivery.  Changes are likely to be required in documentation methods and standards, and in building team relationships that integrate case management goals across a spectrum of staff functions.

 

Recommendation 9

Conduct a community consultation with Sole-Support Parent advocates and service providers

 

Conduct a community consultation with Sole-Support Parent advocates and service providers to identify how three functional areas of OW delivery can be better integrated and improved:

 

Financial Assistance

Employment Assistance

Family Support

 

This consultation would also be helpful in engaging municipalities and the Ministry of Community and Social Services and perhaps the federal government in partnership with communities to assess and expand the capacity of the community-based agency delivery system in each region of Ontario in meeting the myriad needs of sole support parents.

 

 

Recommendation 10

Table for future training forums the developmental needs of FSWs in accordance with the larger goals of OW, especially promoting client independence through employment

 

 

 

Recommendation 11

Provide voluntary post-employment supports with accompanying training for Caseworkers and FSWs to serve all OW Participants who exit to employment

 


Concluding Comments

 

An underlying theme that I hope emerges from my observations and recommendations is that of Capacity Building at all levels:  -individual, organization and community.  At this critical juncture in the evolution of Ontario’s welfare system, there is a need to build on the strengths of the delivery model in myriad ways.

 

Our goal must remain to improve and build upon the capacity of each of our Participants to participate.  At the individual level, case management standards need to be established and implemented for all front-line staff, based on Best Practices and concurrent with modern, proven strategies and methods.  The most isolated and least asset-blessed Participants on the OW caseload can best be engaged meaningfully by practitioners who are knowledge about resources, empowered to initiate necessary services in a timely manner, who are highly skilled in the use of universal advanced case management strategies, and who reflect the values that are necessary to achieve success.

 

Our effectiveness is enhanced by enriching our ability to identify Participant needs, concerns, capabilities and assets through modern techniques, underscored by the old-fashioned skill of relationship building.

 

Organizationally, there is a opportunity to identify Best Practices, and to improve upon if not outright eradicate the functional silos that inhibit and sometimes destroy harmonized service delivery.  Through testing new models and building on what works best for the Participant, we can reduces client stress, increase Participant engagement, promote a team-based approach to serving each individual Participant, and reach out more effectively to the community of service providers.

 

We are neither alone nor isolated.  Each municipality has reached out into communities of service providers, advocates, other governments, and to the broadest range of stakeholders in ways that were not conceived of but several years ago.  We know that successful intervention models require a continuum of services, to help each Participant through sequential stages of success, and to have the capability and capacity to serve the wide range of needs that Sole-Support Parent possess.  Communities must continue to be engaged as equal shareholders, whose ideas and work are important considerations in how we may improve on our work methods.

Our goal need not be to revolutionize Family Support, but to recognize the many contributions this program function can and does achieve in fostering Participant Development, in maintaining family health and wellness, and in helping to overcome Participant powerlessness that comes from exclusion.

 

It is the hearts and minds of staff who serve the Family Support and other needs of OW Participants that are our greatest asset in the quest to improve our services, to continue a program evolution that provides for ‘value-added’, responsive, adaptable and integrated services.

 

On behalf of all of the Participants in Ontario served by OW, I will close with my fervent hope that our search for greater Participant independence will eventually enshrine the value of the Shortest Route to Sustainable Employment.

 

Thank you for your patience and indulgence. Have a wonderful conference.


 

Readings

 

After Ontario Works: A survey of people who left Ontario Works in Toronto, Toronto Community & Neighbourhood Services, 2002

 

Community Capacity Draining: The Impact of Current Funding Practices on Non-Profit Community Organizations, Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, Lynn Leakin & Associates, May 2004

 

Driving Social Inclusion: Turning on a Paradigm, Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, undated

 

Employability Skills 2000+, The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa. 2000.

 

Falling Fortunes, A Report on the Status of Young Families in Toronto, Family Service Association of Toronto, Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, July 2004

 

Improving the Health of Canadians, Canadian Population Health Initiative, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ottawa, 2004

 

Never has business taken so much in return for so little, Jim Stanford, The Globe and Mail, September 27, 2004

 

Ontario Works Information Site, Extranet, 2004

 

Ontario Works Policy Directives, Ministry of Community & Social Services, Queen’s Park, 2004

 

Poverty Statistics: What’s Available and Where to Find It, Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, undated

 

Practice and Procedure for the Family Support Worker: An Introduction, James Stengel, Mississauga, ON, April 2004

 

Reconnecting Social Assistance Recipients to the Labour Market: Lessons Learned Final Report; Evaluation and Data Development, Strategic Policy, Human Resources Development Canada, March 2000.

 

Sharing the Wealth: Economic Prosperity and Rebuilding Canada’s Social Safety Net, Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance, Pre-Budget Consultations, National Anti-Poverty Organization, Ottawa, October 2003

 

Social assistance reform and paid work, Income Security Advocacy Centre and Steering Committee, April 2004

 

Social Assistance & Social Exclusion, Findings from Toronto Social Services 2003 Survey of single parents on Ontario Works, Toronto Community & Neighbourhood Services

 

Walking on Eggshells: Abused Women’s Experiences of Ontario’s Welfare System, Final Report of Research Findings from the Woman and Abuse Welfare Research Project, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, April 5, 2004

 

 

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