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Lives on welfare: Mother stands up for her kid, and wins!

Just a kid with glasses, from an optician’s advertisement.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It often pays to speak up when you believe your Community Services caseworker isn’t treating you fairly. No matter how difficult and  scary that is. 

Just ask Kate. We wrote about Kate (not her real name) earlier. Her son Michael, who is autistic, is not fully toilet trained yet, but Community Services refuses to help her pay for diapers and wipes.

This time the issue is glasses. Michael needs them to see.

The problem is that Community Services was only willing to pay for one pair of glasses for Michael, without a warranty, and supposed to last two years. That was not realistic, Kate told her caseworker. Michael is an active five year old who is autistic. He will break a few before he gets the hang of it, she predicted.

Kate found out about a free program for kids offered by the Atlantic Superstore, got Michael a pair of glasses on her own, and sure enough, some two days later he came home from school with his glasses broken. Folks who administer the Early Intensive Behaviour Intervention (EIBI) program Michael is enrolled in were going to work with him, but it will take time before these efforts pay off, Kate says.

So, no glasses for Michael.

“I went down to Social Assistance, and asked to talk to somebody. But nobody came out. They are there to serve people that need help, and unfortunately we as a family need their help,” Kate says. “I wanted people to take the glasses and see that they are broken. I just wanted somebody to come and talk to me, I am a human being.”

Last week, many weeks after the glasses broke, Kate received a call from her caseworker, who told Kate that only option was to appeal the decision.

“We are begging for extra diapers and wipes, obviously I don’t have 200 extra dollars for a pair of glasses. That’s just common sense. I don’t understand what the problem is,” Kate told her caseworker. “That’s just the way it is, it’s policy,” was the response, according to Kate.

So Kate, who is fearless when it comes to standing up for her kids, appealed the decision, and she attached 13 letters written by professionals, paediatricians, daycare workers, social workers, and so on, all recommending that the department fork out the money for a pair of kids glasses with a warranty for Michael.

That all happened last week. She also called her MLA, and she contacted the tiny but mighty Nova Scotia Advocate. Yesterday afternoon we submitted a couple of questions about her case to the department.

“(Community Services)  does have specific amounts in policy that staff adhere to when approving special needs items. While we can’t speak to specific cases, it should be noted that supervisors have the ability to conduct an administrative review and provide an amount above what is listed in policy in exceptional circumstances such as the one described,” responded Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for the department, early this afternoon.

Just about the time that email arrived in my inbox, Kate was getting a phone call from Community Services. The department issued a purchase order for two pairs of glasses for Michael, with warranty. When one pair breaks, Kate can get it fixed on warranty, and Michael still has the spare one to use.

“We’re a month into it, and now they are going to help us. I don’t understand these people,” says Kate. “Why do you have to do all these things before they will actually help? That doesn’t make any sense. They weren’t doing anything before you asked questions.”

This story has a happy ending, but you can’t help but wonder how many people would just have surrendered much earlier. There’s a lesson here for her fellow social assistance recipients, Kate believes. “People just should never give up.” 


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  1. It is so nice to see a story a story where Community Services is actually listening to one of their clients regarding the client’s needs.
    Also in this story the women was able to work through the Bureaucratic non cents with no issues. Other clients have issues whne going through the Bureaucratic non cents.

  2. Sometimes it is extremely frustrating dealing with Social Assistance. Very often they make you hop through hoops and beg and plead to get anything done. Years ago when my daughter was quite small, I had to arrange a new daycare that was subsidized. She was not getting along with students or the attending EC Workers, at the one she was attending. The department asked me to make calls to all of the subsidized Daycares in my vicinity. I was told my worker simply did not have time to deal with it. I tirelessly phoned every daycare on the list and finally was able to find an opening. At this point I had let my worker know and she say that it would be ok if I arrange a meeting to see the new facility. If you make enough noise about an issue people will often stop and take notice. If you sit in silence nothing gets done.

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