On getting through this together

As the Federation Board President, I find myself in a unique position during these complex times. I am both the Executive Director of a community organization and part of the team helping to guide The Federation’s strategic direction. Aided by the voices of our membership and a board of directors informed by their own roles as leaders of essential social services, we can offer a distinct and important perspective on how to provide community services during a global crisis like the one we are facing.

I continue to participate in calls and virtual meetings with leaders from various provincial networks and ministries. And I religiously tune into Dr. Bonnie Henry’s daily updates online. The combination of the local and provincial perspectives has been a learning journey as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in BC. I am impressed with the leadership of Dr. Henry and the province and with the way that the crisis is being managed on a macro level. The province has also taken a positive step by including The Federation in the Premier’s Economic Recovery Taskforce. And, while the larger provincial directions seem clear, I can’t deny that I continue to grapple with the complexity of responding at a local, agency level.

All of us have had to make decisions before provincial policies have been released or communicated in order to maintain vital supports for our community’s most vulnerable citizens. For some of you, this has meant continuing to provide face to face services while others adapt to working from home. For others, it has meant pivoting to provide virtual supports (which require new learning about online platforms and privacy requirements). Adding to the complexity is all of the policy development that goes along with these kinds of quick shifts and the importance of finding avenues to support staff in meaningful ways as they work to support clients and keep their own families safe.

All this is to say these times have felt like building an airplane while we are flying it. We continue to collaborate with our government partners, give them feedback about the reality of the frontline in a pandemic, and call upon them to be partners in the business of caring for our communities. And being a good partner also invites us to understand the complex environment in which our government partners are working.

Last Thursday, on the Federation’s weekly COVID-19 call, members were expressing their frustration and concerns with the situation that many of us find ourselves in. One member was worried enough to offer some suggestions about how the Federation could be working with the government in this time of crisis. After the call, this member emailed myself and Rebecca to apologize for her comments. She was worried she had overstepped and, after explaining herself, reiterated her concerns and her offer to help however possible.

I share this story with you because I don’t think it was at all necessary to apologize. None of us need to apologize for feeling worried right now or for repeatedly raising the various challenges we are facing (and have been facing for weeks). We are all in similar situations and experiencing the crisis within our respective social service agencies. The Federation needs to hear your voices, your questions, and your struggles even if they are the same questions and struggles week after week. At the heart of her comments was the principle that good partners help each other solve tough problems.

This pandemic will continue whether sector guidelines are forthcoming or not. We must continue to run our businesses and make important decisions for our agencies, our clients, and our communities and this is an incredibly hard thing to do these days. But I am inspired and overwhelmingly proud to be among colleagues across this sector who are stepping up, adapting, and doing what needs to be done despite the lack of certainty.

As the province moves towards reopening and recovering, some things may get worse before they get better. Once children return to schools and childcare opens up more broadly, referrals to social services may significantly increase due to new and unprecedented challenges within our communities. Once distancing restrictions are loosened, agencies will need to reassess how to go back to a “new service-delivery normal.”

As we prepare for whatever comes next, I hope you remember that your voices are the catalyst for social change. Continue to reach out, voice your concerns, share your victories, ask your questions, and stay in touch. Our voices serve as a beacon for each other and are proof that we truly are better together.

On behalf of The Federation, thank you all for remaining engaged and connected during this time. Your communities are lucky to have you.

Tanya Behardien
Federation Board President