Below is the full text of the 2017 Select Standing Committee Presentation submitted by The Federation of Community Social Services of BC.
2017 Select Standing Committee Presentation
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today. My name is Rick FitzZaland and I am the Executive Director of The Federation of Community Social Services of BC.
The Federation is a group of community-based social services organizations that aim to influence decision-making in order to improve the well-being of our communities. Our mission is to act as a catalyst for positive change when it comes to British Columbia’s social policies and community programs. We represent more than 130 member agencies serving over 250 communities across BC both on and off recognized First Nations territories.
I would like to begin today by acknowledging some positive steps this new government has already made to improve the lives of the people in our communities. The increases to Income Assistance and Persons with Disabilities rates was long overdue as was the increase to earning exemptions. Expanding the tuition waiver program is something that The Federation has championed for many years (along with others like Vancouver Island University and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond). The commitment to reconciliation gives me hope for the future and the promise of affordable, accessible childcare is something that will benefit many children and their working parents. Thank you for understanding that the well-being of our province is tied to the well-being of its people.
With that important point in mind, we would like to draw your attention to the state of community social care in BC. We do so respectfully and knowing that many of you already understand the importance of healthy, supported communities. As you consider the goals and objectives of this government—to improve services for people, to make life more affordable, and to build a strong, sustainable economy—we would like you to think about the role community social services will play in achieving those goals.
About community social services in BC
Many of the services that the provincial government provides to its citizens are actually done so through contracts with social services organizations. These include services and supports for families, for young people involved in the child protection system, for people with disabilities, for those trying to find jobs, for newcomers to BC, and for our older adults. These are the things I am referring to when I speak about the community social services sector.
This sector occupies a unique, precarious space among the many other government services. We abide by and work within procurement law that is often better suited for those building physical infrastructure such as bridges and roads than it is for those building social infrastructure like youth programs and transition houses for women fleeing abuse. We are an integral part of the system of care provided by various government ministries—the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Ministry of Public Safety to name a few—but we are also separate entities with our own organizational structures, bylaws, histories, and cultures. We address issues that many people simply want to ignore or deny and we challenge the status quo so that we might leave the world better than we found it.
The state of community social services in BC
I want you to picture a house—a house that was once sturdy, strong, and well taken care of. It had a solid roof, fresh paint, flowers on the front porch, and enough space for everyone inside. It was built to be the perfect size for the people living in it and it had everything they needed—running water, a fireplace, plenty of bedrooms.
Now picture the same house after two decades of neglect and with three times as many people forced to live inside. Sure, there may still be some flowers out front, but the roof leaks, the floorboards are cracked, the chimney is blocked, the bills are unpaid, and yet more and more people keep coming in looking for shelter.
For many years, The Federation has presented to this committee and made clear the need for increased investment in social services. Our concern about the severe underfunding of BC’s community social services is a matter of public record. It is our assessment—after years of tracking the provincial budget—that the economic prosperity of our province has been built on the backs of vulnerable children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
Yes, there have been some modest increases to the Ministries funding these services. And there have been modest increases to the workforce in those social care Ministries. And yes, those increases were welcomed—at this point, any increase is welcomed. But the community organizations that provide the vast majority of these services and supports have not seen any substantial increase in nearly two decades.
If a house is falling down, a new coat of paint won’t actually fix anything. If a house is falling down, you need to fix the foundation.
Someone you know relies on community social services to live their life. The well-being of our children, our families, our neighbours, and friends—no matter what they’re facing: be it illness, aging, inequality, or just bad luck—is intrinsically tied to the well-being of the sector that was built to serve them.
And the sector is at risk. Agencies are continuing to operate with base funding levels that have not changed in over a decade. Underfunding is having a profound impact on the people and organizations that are busy trying to care for others—stress, burnout, injury, illness. The cracks in the foundation are growing.
We—all of the people, in all of the organizations The Federation represents—urge you to take a long, hard look at the social services sector as you continue planning the future of government services in BC. Changes are needed in the social care Ministries but changes are also needed in the community sector. The latter has been overlooked for too long.
I’m not here to ask for a new coat of paint. I’m here to help you fix the foundation because we all care about the people inside that house. Here’s how we can do that.
Recruitment and retention is the largest human resources challenge facing the sector. The community social services sector is one with a highly educated workforce. It’s a sector where most jobs require at least a college diploma. But wages for unionized workers are 10-15% lower than their counterparts in community health. The disparity gets even greater when compared with the wages in education and public service.
I am glad for the commitment to address wages in the early childhood education sector but incomes elsewhere have been dangerously low for too long. This makes the recruitment and retention of skilled staff a huge challenge and we expect things will only get more difficult as health and education increase their hiring over the coming year.
Our sector has a workforce that is stressed, overworked, and has high turnover as a result. We can’t keep relying on people to do this work simply because they are “good, caring people.” They are good, caring people but they do demanding, difficult work where people’s livelihoods are at stake. They, like all of us, deserve to feel safe and supported in their positions. If you want to improve service delivery, support and empower the people delivering those services. Over 15,000 people work in the community social services sector.
As the government prepares to begin collective bargaining in 2019, I urge you to consider the long-term implications of underfunding this large and important workforce.
We also continue to worry about the prevalence of workplace violence and aggression in the social care sector. Data obtained from WorkSafeBC shows that workplace violence makes up 3.5% of all time loss claims in the province. However, in the health and social services subsector, that number jumps to 12.5%. For residential social services, workplace violence represents an astounding 28.5% of all claims—and this number has been increasing year after year. Nowhere else has such a high claims rate.
Our sector knows all too well that violence has lasting physical and emotional impact. This can affect people’s mental health and their livelihood. The level of aggression that occurs in the social services sector is a problem that needs to be solved. And the answer is not more security guards.
The answer is funding increases to the sector so people don’t have to wait as long for the services they need. The answer is funding increases to hire enough staff and to provide them with adequate supervision and proper training—such as trauma-informed approaches to care—so they can carry out their important work. A revolving door of new staff combined with a growing number vulnerable, desperate people forced to wait for care creates a volatile mix. A strong, stable economy protects its workers. It keeps caregivers and front-line staff happy and healthy and supported so they can deliver the quality of services and support that the people of BC deserve.
Those services are important—more than most people realize. And so I also want to urge you to consider how procurement in the social sector is managed. We understand very well that this is a significant issue for a number of social care Ministries; however, we are concerned that current contracting practices devalue the impact of dedicated, personal, and community-based service delivery.
Organizations bidding on government contracts should be required to demonstrate the value they will provide to the community. Reviewers must take into consideration everything that may be lost, beyond the ability to fulfill the contract, should a local organization be overlooked.
There is immense value—for all parties involved—in having social services delivered by organizations that are embedded within the communities they serve. Doing so means the money spent on that community stays in that community. It means approaches are based on the knowledge of local history, culture, and geography. It enables local citizens to serve as volunteers and local business to assist with delivery and development—everyone involved has a deep connection to the community.
The true value of local, community-based service delivery is immeasurable. That’s why it is our hope that the government will consider a full review of the procurement standards in place for community social services in BC.
It can be tempting for some people to look at BC’s complex social care system and try to address issues with quick, easy solutions—fresh paint, a potted plant. But all of us here know it’s not that simple. The system that delivers social care in BC is too complex for the stop-gap, simple solutions that have been tried in the past.
Affordable childcare needs to be understood and addressed as part of a system that helps all families—those with young children, those expecting, foster families, and children in care. Homelessness needs to be addressed in a way that understands modern poverty and connects a parent’s ability to care for their child and the equally important ability to leave a violent home or put food on the table in spite of having been injured at work.
The work ahead of us is complex and it will be difficult. But it will be less difficult if we all work together. The entire sector—MCFD, CLBC, community agencies, Indigenous organizations—needs to be on the same page from day one, moving in the same direction, and at the same pace.
Your carpenter can’t fix the rotten floorboards until the plumber gets at the leaky pipes underneath. The roofer can’t fix the cracks in the roof if the house’s foundation keeps shifting out from underneath it.
Collaboration needs to become the norm, not a nice to have when we can make time for it. Our sector can be a great partner and an invaluable resource as this government tackles the items on its agenda. I encourage you to take advantage of our experience, energy, and ideas.
Yes, it’s possible to make change. This new government has already shown that. But the kind of problems that still lay ahead of us will not be solved with the same tools and tactics we have tried before. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner and we need to do something better, something smarter.
Our members represent some of the most creative, passionate, and caring people in this province. Every day, they help the people of BC in amazing ways with far, far too little. It has taken a toll. They have spent decades striving to make things a little bit better for the people living all around us. They are an integral part of our communities and they deserve to be treated as such.
You understand that healthy, supported communities make good economic sense. And I hope you also understand that well-funded community social services are necessary for those communities to prosper.
Federation Executive Director