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Pigeonholed by Community Services? Kendall Worth on work-readiness assessments

Kendall Worth is a poverty activist and a frequent contributor to the Nova Scotia Advocate.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Earlier articles in the Nova Scotia Advocate by me and others have reported on Community Services transformation plans to assess and group people on social assistance by their ability to work.

The results of these assessments will result into grouping you into the three category these assessments find that you fit in. Either you will never work, you are ready to go back to work right now, or you are between the two.  

All we can hope for is for these assessments to be accurate instead of just something made up by some bureaucrats.

There are three unanswered questions:

  • Are these real vocational assessment they are proposing?
  • Are these assessments going to be set up to even take into consideration disabilities and mental health issues clients may have that keep them from being able to work?
  • Are these assessments done by qualified professionals?

I am writing this article as a first voice person who experiences poverty and mental health issues.  I myself have had many assessments done to me. The assessments I have done on me in life relate both to vocational issues and mental health.

I could even say that have enough knowledge and experience regarding what an assessment should be that if the department of Community Services really wanted to hire a first voice person to design this assessment, I could create this assessment with my own two hands.

From my personal experiences, the opportunity to take an assessment can be a positive opportunity of self exploration. Self exploration is important when it comes to exploring things such as what type of work you want to do in life for a living.

However, based on every assessment I have ever taken, this is not always the case, and it sounds like this is not going to be the case with the assessments that the directors of Community Services  are proposing.

All this brings back memories from when I was a kid. I remember how starting in 5th grade a psychologist used to come visit me at my school each year until somewhere in my high school years.

All this brings back memories from when I was a kid. I remember how starting in 5th grade a psychologist used to come visit me at my school each year until somewhere in my high school years. He would come and assess me for my learning disability.  Also, as a kid and in my early teens I have had some visits with a child psychologist at the hospital that would also assess me for mental health issues.

Also in my early twenties after leaving home I had, through a different psychologist, an adult version of these assessments done on me. This is where I developed an understanding of why my schooling went the way it did. As talked about in past articles I I had been diagnosed with  OCD and a learning disability.

Also throughout my whole life, I have had career-related assessments done on me as well.

One benefit I have gained from taking these assessments is that it really helped me to better understand myself and get to know who I am. They also helped me understand my disability and mental health issues I deal with in life better.

The reason I share these personal memories of taking related assessments in the past is to see what a good assessment by Community Services should look like.

When you look at the proper way to create an assessment of any type, the major factor that needs to be taken into consideration is it allows you to understand and choose the ways of life improvements that  need to be considered. The purpose of any assessment is for a person to have the opportunity to get to know themselves. The question I raise here is whether the department of Community Services is even considering this factor when they create this assessment.

It is a mystery, because we do not know what they are doing in creating these assessments.

In meetings with the directors of Community Services regarding the ESIA transformation I personally have told them that from my personal experience of having different type assessments done in the past my concern is that our regular caseworkers do not have the qualifications to perform these type of assessments on their clients.

The directors of ESIA are reassuring me that these are not intended to be assessments of one’s mental health and learning disabilities. From my personal experiences learning disabilities and mental health issues are an important part of assessing to see how far away a client is from the work force.

This is why these assessments need to created in a format where they look at clients to figure out where self improvements are needed – as well as vocational improvement.

Overall, the department of Community Services is likely planning their proposed assessment of people on social assistance as a way to get as many as people as possible back into the workforce. This is a concern among the persons with disabilities and mental health communities.

Instead, the department of Community Services needs to focus on job analysis. This means they have got to develop a better understanding of our current economy and job prospects. The reality is that if things do not improve in the economy then people on social assistance will not be able to return to work.    

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  1. Kendall thank you very much for your informative article. You certainly make some essential points.

    As a person who has worked for over twenty years with youth at risk, who had a myriad of struggles and challenges, it would often disturb me the affects of assessments and labels put upon these youth. I’m not saying there can’t be beneficial assessments done. However it has been my profound and personal experience, that a good assessment is a rarity in Nova Scotia. This I attribute to the the fact that Nova Scotia is greatly lacking vital mental health support coupled with the lack of concrete and effective support from Community Services for both families and individuals.

    Putting labels on others can be very damaging and I’ve seen this time and time again. People can not be easily categorized in a manner that doesn’t take into consideration the whole person, and their particular circumstances.
    You’re so right when you state Community Services is not qualified to do in depth assessments, and I’m certain that this is not the attention. I suspect the attention is a meager, very short sighted attempt, to address a socioeconomic crisis, by putting really inadequate and ill defined perimeters around an out of control system that has failed, and continues to fail too many that are simply not being given enough to live a life in dignity.
    I’m in complete agreement with what you’ve stated.
    “The reality is that if things do not improve in the economy then people on social assistance will not be able to return to work. ”
    If there are no jobs to go to and there is no effective job creation what is the purpose of this kind of vocational assessment?
    I was once told by a social worker from Community Services, that he knew he worked for a government that didn’t give people enough money to live. That said, we live in a so called democratic world where the majority of people don’t have enough money to live. Our political systems don’t work because generally money is what runs our political system.

    So I guess the reality is, if we all just went out and got one of these phantom jobs, that doesn’t exist we could all just live happily together in a fantasy. Thank fully I’m a realist and have a voice to advocate for a change in my reality.
    Thank you Kendall.

  2. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that these proposed assessments are designed to help people in receipt of income assistance. In the beginning (of my time with the Department), I was willing to trust. It did not take very long for “them” to shatter any trust that I might once have placed in DCS. No, the true purpose, I believe, is to find an excuse to reduce, refuse or remove assistance, such as it is, from as many people as possible. I agree with Ms. Meyers regarding her comments about the lack of work and the “meager, very short sighted attempt, to address a socioeconomic crisis…” and with your comment, Kendall, regarding DCS’s lack of qualifications to perform said assessments. Since this is so, where do they propose to find the needed expertise, if these assessments are to be credible? To say nothing of the funds for said expertise, when the department has repeatedly claimed that it does not have room in the budget for increases to already-inadequate social assistance cheques. We shall see. Perhaps there are good intentions at work here, and things will run a great deal smoother than is anticipated. But I have my doubts.

  3. I believe that these assessments are just steps they follow to get as many people off Assitance and out of their hair as quickly as possible. When I was dependent on Assitance, they mirrored my every move until the moment THEY felt I was ready to work. Then they started to forcefully push me through every appointment as fast as possible to rush me into training for work. They held my income often, forcing me attend these meetings even though I pleaded with them that I was not mentally ready to enter a work force. I suffer from servers anxiety and panic attacks, I do not function well in public. It’s not that I don’t like the public, it’s that I become dizzy and black out when I am surrounded by people. Now I can usually manage this, but I had just left an abusive relationship with nothing but the clothes my children owned and a few pieces of furniture. I was beyond stressed. And then adding to it with their pushing made things worse. I never had a moment to solve my mental health issues before they started cramming all this down my throat. And as much as I pleaded with them, they would hold my income until I gave in.

    So I did what they made me do, I did complete two years of training (with honors) and I did leave Community Services. But, I cannot work. I have yet to work one hour in my position I am trained for because my Mental health was not properly taken into consideration. My only chance to provide for myself and my children, robbed of me because someone was antsy to get another name of their dependent list.

    And through it all, I bet they gave themselves a pat on the back for one more off the system, nevermind the fact they’ve ruined my life.

  4. Good article. Give people with severe mental health issues a job, with a very, I state, very supportive environment, and give increased social assistance to those that still struggle, and cannot work.

  5. I was lied to by DCS. Saying they would retrain me and put me to work. There were witnesses when they made this bold offer.

    I was actually excited at the prospect of going back to school. I was happy for the opportunity. I thought ” wow this is the system working!”

    Given I have no reliable use of my legs from major injuries. Severe anxiety. PTSD for reasons I would rather not get into. Retraining is exactly what I would need.

    In the end it was just an attempt to see if I was ready to back to work and lord over my benefits. My worker is cool and is caught between a rock and a hard place. I’m not sure how the person manages but the worker is pretty cool. It wasn’t the workers fault. The false promises came from higher up within the department.

    There were never plans for retraining or job placement.

    When my annual assessment came there was not a word mentioned of it. Like it was never spoken. The minute I mentioned it I was asked to be resubmit my medical saying I was able to go back to work. Which will never happen. I wish it were otherwise but it won’t. Not without retraining for a job that would consider my medical condition.

    My medical assessment is what keeps a roof over my head. Every year for ten years they try and and pull my cheque. Their authority to financially scrutinize and make decisions that affect peoples lives in serious ways borderline on discrimination against the disabled.

    It’s very stressful.

    As if I (or anyone) wants to be limited to 9000.00 a year.

    Thanks for your work here people.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I would love to know who is ultimately making these asinine decisions. Even if you appeal they hide behind policy, regardless if it’s fair or not.
    Discrimination I’m afraid is built in to the system.

    I acutely took notice how Premier McNeil has been feeling generous, but not so when it comes to improving the quality of life of those dependent on DCS.

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