A Tale of Two Decades

By: 

Ray Ferris

This is a story about the decade of 1950 to 1960 and the present decade, 2010 to 2020.

In June 1957, I took my first job as a social worker in Smithers BC. I was responsible for all child protection, financial assistance, old age assistance, blind and disabled pensions, adoptions and medical social work from Smithers to Kitwanga, some 100 kilometres to the West. I had eight aboriginal villages in my territory, and we did all services except financial on the reserves. There were two old age pensions, the universal one at seventy and a means-tested one at 65. The rules and regulations were mind-boggling. My supervisor also supervised the Burns Lake office 160 km to the east and covered the Telkwa and Houston caseloads.

My weekly caseload journey necessitated an overnight stay in Hazleton and I would cover three to four hundred kilometres, which was no fun in winter on mountain roads. If I got a letter by Wednesday morning requesting help, I would make a home visit that day or the next and do an eligibility study. There were no street addresses and so careful directions were needed. Usually a cheque would be in the mail on Friday when I got back to the office. It would be picked up at the post office the next day. I always made a point of visiting a couple of my dozen foster homes each week.

Today there are now thirty employees instead of two. Area population has about doubled, so staff ratio has increased seven to eight fold. There are separate financial assistance and child welfare offices in Smithers and Hazleton, as well as separate aboriginal child welfare services. Of course the staff complain about being overworked and overstressed. One would imagine they would give first class service compared with my day. It now takes at least two weeks to get a cheque, and foster parents complain that social workers do not return their phone calls. You be the judge.