September 12th, 2012 · Diana Guenther, Policy Note.
Guest blogger Diana Guenther drew on extensive work experience in social services to develop her Masters of Urban Studies thesis on improving services for at-risk youth in BC. She shares some of her key recommendations here:
Having worked with at risk youth for 15 years and in three different countries, I have always been quite puzzled about the rudimentary and limited professional, community-based and preventive services available for children and youth in BC. After all, investing in children, youth and family services is not only a hallmark of a caring and a just society, it also makes economic sense. As a social worker noted in a report by Pivot Legal Society,
The public needs to recognize that it is either pay now (providing supports, resources and placements) or pay later (jails, youth detention, homelessness, school drop outs, gangs, mental health and addiction issues)…The history of provincial child, youth, family and social services in BC is characterized by privatization, a fragmentation of service delivery, underfunding, frequent restructuring and a business model logic that frequently misses the mark. Important stakeholders do not have a strong voice in the policy arena.
My research into the sector leads me to recommend the following changes:
1. Address the current democracy deficit in the social service sector:
The current configuration (centralized policy making and de-centralized/privatized service delivery) has created fragmented services and a competitive and dysfunctional policy environment, and has sidelined too many stakeholders.
2. Return to social work and youth work values:
Managerialism and business logic has crept into every aspect of the sector...Continuity of care for at-risk youth needs to be one of the guiding principles of this sector.
3. Reduce the corporate orientation of the non-profit sector:
The non-profit model that I believe in has an ongoing connection and dialogue with community members about the services needed, and is accountable to the community and children and youth they serve. I would like to see more social workers, youth workers, youth, parents, academics, politicians, activists, municipal and provincial bureaucrats, teachers, etc. as board members.
4. Invest in community-based youth services:
Community-based youth services that offer services to all youth but focus some of their resources on vulnerable youth in order to stabilize them in their communities should be enhanced. Many municipalities offer some youth services through their recreation departments or community centers. If municipal and provincial government would join forces/resources, this model could be enhanced.
5. Provide services for young adults/older youth leaving care
The vast majority of youth in care do not have the resources and/or life skills to transition into independence at the age of 19. Even the most privileged youth who come from supportive families rarely do. We need more services for young adults leaving care.
6. Focus on the needs of aboriginal youth
Aboriginal youth are over-represented among marginalized and homeless youth – according to research by the McCreary Centre, 57 % of street-involved youth are aboriginal... There are big differences between healthy and struggling native communities, aboriginal youth with and without Indian status, urban aboriginal youth and aboriginal youth living on-reserve (with a connection to community), first nations with and without settled land claims. We need to focus our resources on the most disadvantaged aboriginal youth, while also challenging the system which creates such harmful differentiation.
These policy recommendations are based on my SFU Masters Research Project: How have neoliberal shifts from the 1980s to the present day in social welfare delivery changed the services provided to street youth in Vancouver? The full text of this project can be found here: https://theses.lib.sfu.ca/thesis/etd6962