Nicole is a Child Protection social worker at VACFSS.
Tell us about your background.
I am from the Tahltan Nation in the Stikine Country of the northern interior of British Columbia but I grew up on Vancouver Island.
How many years have you been with VACFSS and what is your position?
I’ve been with VACFSS on and off for about 8 years and I have been working as a Child Protection social worker for the last 3.
What brought you to VACFSS?
I had previously never heard of the agency until I came across a job posting for a finance clerk position. Once I started reading about VACFSS, I knew I wanted to work here. I got the finance clerk job which was only a one-year term. My plan was to continue with finance and finish schooling, but after participating in the VACFSS cultural camp, I didn’t even care what role I was in, I just wanted to continue working with the agency. My Nation is in northern B.C. but I grew up on the Island, so I was pretty removed from my culture. The cultural camp was my first exposure to Elders and cultural teachings – it was 3 days of intense dialogue and everyone was supportive of one another. I got to hear from all different social workers and gained a better understanding of the front line work being done. We also participated in a Sweat Lodge ceremony and discussed important contemporary issues. I think that being surrounded by Indigenous People and discussing the historical nature of social work and self-care was all very healing and grounding.
What made you decide you wanted to be a social worker?
I think every Indigenous person has a complicated relationship with social workers and I was definitely reflective of that, but I found the approach in the work done at VACFSS to be so positive.
I think every Indigenous person has a complicated relationship with social workers and I was definitely reflective of that, but I found the approach in the work done at VACFSS to be so positive. The finance team was so amazing and supportive, but once my contract ended, I transferred to the Guardianship program working as an administrative assistant. Although there is no front line work in administration, I was exposed to the social work that VACFSS does on a daily basis. After learning more about the role of Guardianship social workers, I didn’t want to just stay with the agency – I knew I wanted to be a social worker.
There were prerequisites I had to fulfill before I could apply, such as obtaining my driver’s license and buying a car (which I didn’t do until I was a bit older). I had a degree in visual arts from Emily Carr but I needed some courses before I could apply to the UBC School of Social Work. Although I had to resign from VACFSS to complete schooling, it didn’t feel like I was away that long as I was hired back for my practicum at the Child Protection office.
What do you like about working at Child Protection?
The story or journey of every child that is at Guardianship obviously starts in the home, but the work that happens at Child Protection provides a foundation for whether the child stays in the home or is placed in the Guardianship program. I don’t want to put all the onus on Child Protection because at the end, the social worker is just a guide and support person, but the real work is done by the parent.
I feel very protective of the families I work with because of the history of social work in child welfare. My family history is also not any different from theirs.
I love working at Child Protection. The work can be very stressful as VACFSS deals with some of the most complex cases, but I feel so supported by my coworkers. I’ve also worked with some families since I started so there’s trust and strong working relationships that have been developed. I feel very protective of the families I work with because of the history of social work in child welfare. My family history is also not any different from theirs.
What’s been a challenge working at Child Protection?
When I first started working at Child Protection, I would visit with some of the high-risk youth weekly; I was a strong support person for them and we had a lot of opportunity and time to build trust. But, as I developed into a more experienced worker, my caseload increased as well. It’s harder to spend as much time as I would like with the families I work with, but I have gotten really good at prioritizing.
Another thing I believe every child protection social worker struggles with is finding the balance between wanting to be a support worker and needing to address any child protection concerns.
How has social work changed since the pandemic?
Before the pandemic, I would have very regular visits with the families – either they would come to our office or I would drop stuff off at their house, so we’d have check-ins all the time. But, as we cannot do that anymore, I feel like I am working in the dark sometimes. We also rely on schools and daycare for information on how things are going at home and we don’t have that feedback anymore.
As everyone else is stressed out, our families are actually coping fine […] it’s actually been a reality check for me because I recognized that they don’t rely on us. They find what they need and we are just another resource rather than the be all and end all.
It’s been remarkable in other ways, because as everyone else is stressed out, our families are actually coping fine and are very resourceful because they are used to living in crises. I have had families who do their own research and who have found food hampers and emergency grants on their own. It’s actually been a reality check for me because I recognized that they don’t rely on us. They find what they need and we are just another resource rather than the be all and end all.
The hardest part of our work during the pandemic has been having to simultaneously deal with the opioid crisis. At a time when everyone already feels disconnected due to social distancing protocols, it has made things very difficult.
What gives you the most satisfaction?
Definitely returning children to their families. It’s everyone’s goal.
Is there a particular memory that stands to you during your time as a social worker?
When I was still a practicum student, I got to attend a Burning Ceremony at Musqueum. Social workers always appear strong, solid, and focused, but at that ceremony, I got to witness them have a very emotional connection with the families they worked with.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My family lives on Vancouver Island, so I spend a lot of time there. Though, in the past couple of years, I have been able to visit the other side of my family up north as well as visit the Yukon, which has been very nice!