Time to look at social policy differently in B.C.

(originally published in the Georgia Straight on July 4th, 2013 at 12:32 PM)

Here is a surprising thought: virtually every family in B.C. will access social services during their lifetime.

Young families search for daycare. Parents struggle to support a child with developmental disabilities. Victims of domestic abuse, violence or sexual abuse must leave home, deal with the police and justice system, protect their children. Teenagers find themselves living on the street, coping with homelessness, poverty, sometimes addiction or mental health issues. New Canadians struggle to find their way in new communities. Our parents and grandparents search for affordable, appropriate accommodation and supports as they age.

Social services address all of these issues.

The needs are increasing while resources grow tighter. We cannot simply throw more money at the issues, but holding the line, as inflation and population grow, means service providers are stretched ever tighter.

At the same time, the services trying to address some of our most pressing social issues cross ministerial silos, bridge across government, non-profit and corporate sectors, and lack a common vision, or measurements of success. There is some duplication, cracks that some fall through, and—for the outsider trying to navigate the system—often a labyrinth of daunting complexity.

The government has made it clear there is little new money for health, education, or social services. So it is timely that five metro Vancouver social service agencies are calling for a new approach.

Board Voice, a pan-provincial organization of volunteer boards, brought together the boards of Family Services of Greater Vancouver, Greater Vancouver Community Services Society, Options Community Services of Surrey, Pacific Community Resources, and PLEA Community Services.

All are calling for a province-wide discussion to begin creating a social policy framework that would define a vision of better lives for our children, our parents, and ourselves. Communities would be at the centre of this conversation; engaging people in creating the kinds of places where they want to live, work and play.

This social policy framework would layout objectives guiding us to that vision. It has the potential to provide measurements of success based on outcomes. It could provide expectations for ministries to ensure collaborative and coordinated policies and services. It could streamline the delivery of critical services and improve the results for those who need it most. It could outline a process for communities to become more engaged in thinking about how services and supports work for them.

How we as people, as communities, as organizations and governments respond to the needs of our children, our aging parents, new immigrants and victims of violence defines us. Responding to these human needs challenges us all.

We can grow our economy and our communities while improving our quality of life. But we need to begin this conversation now, to define how we do it. If we don’t—or if we fail—we will leave many behind completely.

There is a better way.  Help us create it.

Michael Davis is a volunteer director on the board of Board Voice Society of B.C. and Family Services of Greater Vancouver. 

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