Ombudsman urges social workers to use her resources

'Not everything we recommend is implemented. We are polite but persistent'

The B.C. Ombudsman's office is not an alternative to the courts and the woman at its helm, Kim Carter, has no jurisdiction over the legislature.

That's the negative.

But there's a lot of positive to being the provincial ombudsman, and Carter told 40 social workers and social-work students Thursday about some of the cases she's seen that have benefited the few and the many.

Carter was in Kamloops to mark Social Work Week and to give the B.C. Association of Social Workers Heart of the Grasslands Award to Grant Larson, faculty member at Thompson Rivers University's school of social work and former dean.

She was there to urge the room full of future social workers they can do work to help people, even by the simple act of referring them to her office when all else fails.

"Not everything we recommend is implemented. We are polite but persistent," she admitted.

Carter's office handles 8,000 complaints a year and investigates about 2,000 of those. It also generates one or two systemic reports, such as that done in 2009 on income assistance programs.

"Our focus is to help people get what they are entitled to."

For example, Carter recounted the case of a woman on disability who inherited $20,000. She told the ministry and was told her benefits would be disqualified until she had used up the money.

What the woman found out later was that had she put that money into a trust fund for her medical use, her disability benefits could have continued.

When she discovered that, she went back to the ministry and was told she was out of luck. When she asked for a reconsideration, she said too much time had passed. She tried another avenue with another ministry, but was told without a reconsideration, it couldn't be appealed.

Then she went to Carter's office, which found the original ministry knew about the medical trust fund program and didn't tell the woman. The ministry should have let her know.

Eventually, the woman was given payment from the government, although it said it had done nothing wrong, and she set up her medical trust fund.

"Please look at us as an ally," Carter said.

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