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Social workers calling on feds to leverage funds for Aurora

Concern over the future of Aurora College’s social work program has sparked attention from more than just Northerners.

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The Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) has thrown in its two cents, asking the Government of Canada to leverage funds for the college to ensure the program remains.

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“CASW is appealing to the Government of Canada to leverage federal transfers to ensure the social work program is not lost to residents of the NWT,” read a letter addressed to Federal Employment Minister Patricia Hajdu.

The letter was one of several tabled in the legislative assembly Monday concerning the college’s social work program. [Read the letter]

Aurora’s social work and teacher education programs were expected to get the chop following the loss of $1.9 million in funding to the college announced in the 2017-2018 budget.

Recently, the territorial government announced that a ‘fundamental review‘ of the college will take place, and until that is completed the program cuts are temporarily halted.

However, they still won’t be accepting new students and not much else seems to have changed.

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Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod told Moose FM in a previous interview that “depending on what the review says, if there’s some merit to keeping the programs then we would have to consider that”.

Closure ‘shortsighted’

“We saw this closure as really a shortsighted way of not really supporting the communities in the long run,” said Fred Phelps, executive director of the Canadian Association of Social Workers.

Executive director Fred Phelps.

“We think it’s fundamental to ensuring stronger and healthier communities to have people from the communities themselves trained within the professions to provide those services.

“I think the people in Northern Canada will be the first to acknowledge that those who are trained professionally from their own communities provide superior service to those who are coming from the outside.”

Phelps says that in the long run, keeping the program makes the most sense.

“Social workers from the North, providing services to the North is really how you provide and strengthen the North,” he said.

“I think the federal and territorial governments have an opportunity to provide leadership that looks beyond the immediate budget cycle.”

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Phelps added that while Northerners looking to study social work can find programs at institutions in other jurisdictions, they’re less likely to return home.

Social workers are one of the most in-demand jobs in the North, according to an action plan released by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment in November.

Meeting TRC recommendations

Aurora College has a high Indigenous student enrollment from communities across the territory.

In its letter, the association said the cuts will directly counter recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“The TRC recommends that the federal government provide adequate funding to end the backlog of Indigenous Canadians seeking a post-secondary education,” it read.

“There is an ongoing need for Northern programs to educate social workers while upholding the cultural context to support the surrounding communities.”

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