What We Heard

On the whole, peoples’ experience with their caseworker was negative. A minority of people were very happy with their caseworker, saying their worker helped them access resources and get back on their feet. But this seemed to depend on the “luck of the draw” – some workers were good, some were bad. In general the themes of inconsistency of information, fear, frustration, and a lack of being forthcoming about benefits and resources available were common. Interestingly, even when people had negative experiences, they would often acknowledge that issues arose not because of the workers themselves but rather the system the worker was trying to negotiate on their behalf.

People mentioned inconsistency with workers being switched, often without them being aware. Some mentioned having this occur numerous times within a very short period. This makes it more difficult to establish trust and be able to share more with a worker, which some respondents desired. However, others preferred not to have any contact unless absolutely required, to “stay under the radar.”

People often reported the feeling of being judged, or policed in an arbitrary way. Some felt that they were being spoken “down” to. People who were fearful often reported that they felt they were being interrogated, or being asked questions with an assumption of wrong doing. Some stated that there was fear about “not knowing what to say,” or saying the “wrong” thing. Often people reported feeling manipulated and intimidated into signing documents, particularly newcomers who are learning English and don’t yet understand the bureaucratic terminology.

The issue of “overpayments” often came up. People discussed the fear they felt when “form” letters are sent that state funds will be withheld because of missing information or documents. People mentioned that these letters are received even when it was the social assistance office who misplaced the form. Some mentioned that it was often not even clear from the letter why or how the overpayment occurred.

People often felt workers were not forthcoming with benefits to which they were entitled. People spoke about having to find out for themselves about benefits, such as a clothing allowance or community start-up assistance, and then ask. Overall, it was observed that people who had outside help in navigating the system usually did better than those who didn’t. Ultimately, people would like to be able to advocate for themselves.

Questions For Discussion

1. What are best practices in terms of providing front-line support in OW and ODSP offices? How can we ensure that best practices are standardized across the province?
2. How can we ensure that front line workers are sensitized to the broad issues impacting clients, including physical and psychiatric disability?
3. What is the appropriate role of front-line support? Is there a tension between the social worker role and the role of monitoring compliance?