The Métropolitain

Axe falls on English social service team

By Joel Ceausu on July 18, 2012

“I am tired,” says André Gagnière, director-general of the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Pointe-de-l’Île. “I am tired of fighting for the Pivot by myself. I can’t do it anymore.”

And with that, it’s seemingly a done deal as the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal brings the axe down on a team of social workers that for years had ensured access to English services in the east end for a host of clients including children with intellectual disabilities.

For weeks, rumours of an attack on English-language services in Montreal’s east end had people on edge and outraged a CSN-affiliated union that says the decision was made with zero input from clients and workers.

Since its inception in 1993, the team of social workers acted as a gateway to facilitate services such as therapy, respite and more for English clients often stymied at the doors of east-end CLSCs by unilingual francophones whose right to work in French oftensupersedes the delivery of services. Even union representative Nicole Daniel confirmedthat “English services is a highly politicized issue in the CSSS,” and there are myriad stories of desperate clients left hanging or shuffled from place to place due to a lack ofproficient bilingualism on the part of staff, some of whom are considered bilingual despite a working vocabulary of a few dozen words.

An internal CSSS document shows that “the Agency decided to launch a reflection of the Pivot services in schools and for clients with intellectual disabilities, following requests from the regional committee responsible for English services and the English Montreal School Board.” The Agency is proposing a“repatriation of services” meaning, social workers will be distributed to four east-end CSSS and be part of a team of local nurses and social workers that serve schools on their territory.

Gagnière tried to reassure a group of parents and social workers at a recent board meetingthat the Pivot model will be replaced with guaranteed services as per Quebec law, in each territory by each CSSS. “The people who are hired to deliver those services will be bilingual and may even be anglophones,” he said. He also assured them that the move has nothing to do with the work of the members. “In no way is this a reflection of the qualityof their work” he said, rather alluding to pressure from the Agency to end the model ofdelivering English care. “It’s not working, it’s not according to how things are supposed to be,” he said, after receiving a 1000-signtaure petition that was circulated only among school staff and area partners. (Some social workers contend that an email directiveinstructed school administrators not to sign it, although most who received it did exactly that.)

The cut and redistribution is expected to happen this fall. Under a gag order, CSSS staff would not comment, and for its part, the Agency stayed mum as well, only confirming that a meeting was to take place. In fact, a number of partners have been invited to mid-June meetings when details will be revealed. The East Island Network for English Language Services (REISA) will also present its case in June, says director Fatiha Guemiri, “after we receive all the facts.” Guemiri said REISA is still assembling its response but would not comment on the move until that time.

Despite numerous attempts, EMSB spokespersons could not be reached for officialcomment, but deputy-director of student services Dora Cesta said that it’s the right move. “To get four CSSS to agree to guarantee English services on their territory is monumental in itself,” she says. “The social workers will be a living presencein the CSSS, part and parcel, not just an add-on, and will be part of the programdeveloping and planning from the get-go. They will be a lot more effective that way.”Echoing Gagnière’s comments, Cesta said “the Pivot team does not meet the need anymore, the structure is obsolete. It isolates itself from what is going on.”

None of the Pivot members know where they’ll work, but given their numbers and the territory to cover, at least one CLSC may be short of workers for youth with intellectualdisabilities.

“If the employer or the Agency thinks services can be better distributed back at the CLSCs, they are wrong” said Daniel. “It’s absurd to think resources will be distributed equitably.” Others insist it is simply too difficult to attract English speakers to work in those areas, and since anglophones represent a very small percentage of the clientele in some territories, that a bare bones staff would be at risk. “What would happen” mused one nurse at the St. Michel CLSC, “if someone went on sick leave? For a large organization it’s not an issue, but for a family in crisis? It could be a nightmare.”