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New-Brunswick ’s Social Assistance Program:. Better Action through Better Understanding Linda McCaustlin and Ysabel Provencher, Ph.D. Study Context. Action Research paid for by the Public Health Agency of Canada

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New-Brunswick ’s Social Assistance Program:

Better Action through Better Understanding

Linda McCaustlin and Ysabel Provencher, Ph.D.


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Study Context

  • Action Research paid for by the Public Health Agency of Canada

  • Research Objectives: To get a better understanding of the workings of the social assistance program and its impact on recipients.

  • Action Goals: To improve how the social assistance program works.


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Inquiry Committee

  • Committee Composition: 7 Individuals.

    4 from the Common Front, 1 Senior Investigator

    and 2 Associate Members.

  • Committee Mandate:

    Conducting the research

    (information gathering and analysis).

    Research Action evaluation.


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Procedure

  • 4 Discussion meetings with individuals living on social assistance (Saint John, Moncton, Tracadie and Fredericton) resulting in the meeting of 48 individuals, the majority of which were English-speaking.

  • 7 Interviews with case workers of various regions working or having worked within the social assistance system in the past 10 years.


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Procedure (continued)

  • Discussions were recorded and transcribed on paper.

  • Texts were analysed by each member of the Inquiry Committee.

  • Development of an Analysis Grid (main ideas expressed by participants on how the social assistance system works).


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Main Themes

  • Recipient/Case Worker Relationship

  • Policies and Regulations

  • How recipients are treated by the system

  • System’s effectiveness


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Recipient/Case Worker relationship

  • In Theory...

    The Case Worker = Policy’s key individual.

    Assesses the needs/obstacles/means of individuals.

    Are available to facilitate the “client’s” progress towards independence.

    Key Tool = Case management plan. Needs, obstacles, means assessement; establishing timelines, etc.


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Recipient/Case Worker relationship

  • In Real Life...

    Case Workers = Only for specific classes of recipients (single parent families, certain individuals under age 55). Each case worker has a case load of 130-150 “clients”.

    Other Case Workers = Financial Counsellors. Each case worker has a case load of 700 - 900 “clients”. Contacts done solely by telephone. Once a year visits are sometimes made by summer students.


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Recipients Speak about caseworkers

  • Case workers (especially financial counsellors) are hard to reach.

  • Assigned case worker changes frequently.

  • Case workers interpret policies in various ways. Result: A recipient who is assigned a new case worker can lose benefits without right of appeal (ex. transportation benefit).


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Case Workers Speak about their job

  • Case load too heavy to meet coaching, support goals.

  • Putting in place local initiatives (training projects, etc.) is impossible.

  • The role of counsellor or resource person is impossible to fill, because financial auditing responsibilities take up all available time, resources.


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Policies and Regulations: An Information Matter

  • Confusion and lack of knowledge re regulations

  • Information is hard to access (Policy Manual is available on the Web only)

  • Frequent changes made to the policies and regulations contained in the Policy Manual over the past 18 months (April 2005, October 2005, June 2006).

  • The Policy Manual is derived from the Family Income Security Act, but changes are made by the Department’s civil servants.


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Policies and Regulations: An Information Matter

  • Non application of certain policies or regulations or application of non official policies in certain regional offices (for ex: delivery of health cards) (“quotas” in each region).

  • Information Retention Policy. The case worker is not authorized to INFORM the client regarding his or her priviledges and rights or to give the client information on the benefits to which he or her is eligible. The case worker can only answer the client ’s questions.


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Recipients Speak about treatment in the SA system

  • They feel they are under constant surveillance.

  • They feel the system does not help recipients enter the labour market or help them get out of the poverty cycle.

  • They feel they are being treated unfairly:

    -different interpretation of policies according to the individual or region of the province

    -non-recognition of the handicaped status, even though the handicap is medically documented.


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An efficient system?

The aim of New Brunswick ’s social assistance program is to help recipients achieve independence.

There is a real and perceived contradiction on the part of the system’s users and practitioners between the political discourse and how the program is actually delivered.


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“I went for goal setting. And they say they’re gonna do everything, like they’re gonna help me, get me like ressources that I need to get into, into those things, but then they never did! They never get back to us, at all! And they have all the opportunity in the world, because I wanted to participate in all the programs!”

“That was a part of goal setting. They never got back so what’s the sense of going in there, telling that is your goal, and this is what we want to do and this, and they like, oh well, we’ll see you next year when we do the exact same thing.”


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