EDITORIAL: Emergency first responders forced into social work

Police, firefighters and paramedics should add ‘social worker’ to their job description

There’s a reason why we call them first responders.

Police, firefighters and paramedics are the first people called when we need help. It used to be for fires, car accidents or falling from a tree.

But soon police, firefighters and paramedics are going to have to add ‘social worker’ to their job descriptions.

When they’re walking or biking the beat, police are often the ones contacting social service providers for people in need, checking on vulnerable people to ensure they’re safe, and diffusing dangerous situations.

It’s a specialized skill set that used to fall to case workers. As the provincial government closes facilities for people with mental illness, reduces services and resources, case loads for social workers increase and people simply fall through the cracks.

Where the police used to be the last call, now they’re often the first.

Care for people with mental illness, brain injury or developmental disabilities is complex.

With fewer doctors available to take new patients, those high-maintenance clients are left calling crisis lines and walk-in clinics for stop-gap measures instead of solutions.

Add in poverty, poor nutrition, barriers to housing and it doesn’t take long for someone barely getting by to suddenly end up in crisis.

It takes a community to raise a child, but it also takes a community to ensure that our most vulnerable people are safe and cared for.

That means access to food and nutrition, health care, adequate social services and affordable housing – not a jail cell.

 

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