Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alberta Minister of Children Youth Services Reaches Out.

It is good to see the Minister of Child and Youth Services Alberta (CYSA) responding to the various events that impact from and to the department. Here is a copy of an email that I received from an anonymous source that I understand is from the Minister and distributed to the department:

"A number of incidents involving our ministry have placed us in the news headlines since the beginning of the year, including the death or injury of children in care, youth in care being charged with serious crimes, and issues such as the recent contempt of court ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

These matters and the resulting attention and criticism in the media have an impact on your daily work. I know what it is like to open the newspaper or turn on the radio and hear a report claiming that our system for serving children and families is not working properly.

I want to share with you action that our ministry has been taking following these occurrences, to continue ensuring the best possible outcomes for children, youth, and families in Alberta.

Those of you working directly with children and families, and those of you that support staff who do, understand that the troubling cases reported in the media are the exception and not the rule. During times when there is more media and public attention on the work of our ministry and its staff, it is important to not be distracted but continue focusing on developing and delivering the highest-quality supports and services to the thousands of Albertans who rely on our help.

Our policies and processes are based on leading practices nationally and internationally, and following them makes good sense, since we know they are rooted in evidence-based research. At the same time, it is essential to never stop looking for ways we can make our systems even stronger. In fact, this has always been at the heart of how this ministry does business.
• A number of initiatives are currently underway to achieve that goal including:
• A recently announced review of our child intervention system, chaired by leading child intervention experts, who will examine current child intervention practices, identify leading practices from other jurisdictions, and suggest ways our system may be further strengthened.
• Examining the way our ministry administers the court orders it receives through a review being done with Alberta Justice and Attorney General.
• Reviewing and developing recommendations to strengthen the kinship care program.
• Looking at the multi-disciplinary team process that is part of the Family Support for Children with Disabilities Program.

These activities are over and above the regular reviews and adjustments to our policies and practices, which happen on a continuous basis in our ministry.
Despite our best efforts the reality is there will be times where our systems may not work as well as intended. As ministry staff, you see first hand our policies at work. If you have suggestions on how our policies or practices can be improved, I encourage you to share them with your supervisor.

I feel fortunate to be part of a team that makes such a profound and lasting positive difference in the lives of thousands of Albertans. Please accept my continued thanks and appreciation for the hard work you do for children and families.

Honourable Janis Tarchuk, Minister"

I have asked questions and raised concerns about the corporate culture of CYSA in recent posts. So it is good to see the Minister reaching out. It still begs the questions if the CYSA system is inadequate or the people are ill-prepared or insufficiently resourced to do their job there are serious problems in meeting the legal obligations to the at-risk children and youth they are supposed to be helping. If the staff lacks confidence in the departments leadership then there are very serious problems in work place.

The GOA did a "Corporate Employee Survey" in December of 2008 for each department. Here are some interesting findings for the 1,433 staff of the CYSA. While 76% of department staff were "overall satisfied" to be a GOA employee only 64% of CYSA employees were "satisfied" with their ministry or department. Not good but better than 2006 when only 61% were satisfied with the department.

CYSA staff feelings about being "valued as a GOA employee had only 53% strongly or somewhat agreeing, 31% strongly or somewhat disagreeing and 16% in the neither category. Not a very good work situation obviously.

Only 54% felt the department felt that they were helped to understand how their work "contributes to government business plan goals" and 58% believed they understood the same about the department's business plan. Only 51% believes there is an effective internal communications process in CYSA. Is that reflecting alienation of staff or indifference of leadership and management or both?

We live in rapidly changing times and CYSA's work has to be amongst the most volatile in government services. That said only 52% of staff felt they got the support needed to adapt to changes in the job or work environment and only 50% felt senior management demonstrated interest in the well being of employees and 49% believed they received meaningful recognition for work well done. Only 44% of staff felt that they were asked for employee input about plans for business improvements and that the management and leadership could make timely decisions. OUCH.

It is not all bad news for CYSA. Mostly this department is slightly below the averages of all GOA employees in most categories but when it is bead it is significantly bad. On the positive side a full 92% feel they "have a positive working relationship with coworkers and 84% are satisfied with the quality of service provided from their own work unit. 80% indicated they had confidence in the direct supervisor. It is worth noting only 64% felt that others outside their immediate work unit provided high quality service. Strange disconnect there I think.

There is a recently announced GOA hiring freeze. I wonder how many vacancies exist in CYSA that may be critically needed for people to do their job? Only 56% felt they could retain needed department employees and only 48% felt they could attract needed employees too.

There is obviously a great deal to do to improve these numbers and to better position the department to do its job. I will pose a number of question in a rage of theme areas in future posts that I hope will help Albertans consider in how they might evaluate that repositioning. The credibility gap between the leadership and field staff is the most obvious.

So good start with this email to the department Minister Tarchuk. It is going to be a long row to hoe so please don't think the job of closing the gap between the senior management and your leadership is done with one email.