Comment: Province needs a social-policy framework

What does a family do when the roof caves in on their lives? How should their community respond?

Here at the Board Voice Society of B.C., we’ve been talking for years about the need for a social-policy framework. Our members direct the boards of the community organizations that get called on to support families during times when they need help, and we’ve seen for ourselves the benefits of planned, co-ordinated approaches that bring multiple services and sectors together to help people when life gets complicated.

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We’ve got some terrific publicly funded services in B.C. and Canada. But human needs don’t often line up neatly one at a time. Sometimes they pile on top of each other. The roof collapses and suddenly the pipes burst and the floor falls in, too.

Problems tangle together and interact, sometimes leading to unintended outcomes for families and communities that nobody saw coming. (The steady rise of homelessness over the past 20 years is a vivid example of that at the provincial level.)

Creating a social-policy framework comes down to figuring out such things — having thoughtful conversations in our communities about what we mean when we talk about “well-being,” understanding why the social determinants of health really matter.

It’s about establishing the kind of communities we want for ourselves and our families in B.C., and taking the steps to get there. It’s about creating an overarching framework to guide and prioritize the outcomes that matter most to British Columbians, and building on the work of the many community agencies, ministries and sectors already engaged in trying to make B.C. a better place for everyone who lives here.

Happily, there are some great models to follow. Some community organizations, cities and provinces are already doing this planning work, although in B.C. it currently happens without dedicated funding or a comprehensive plan.

In Victoria, the Shared Assessment Committee is one such example, bringing together staff from local agencies delivering family services and social workers from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The Cridge Women’s and Family Services, for instance, offers support to young parents, families raising children with special needs, and women and children fleeing violence. Many of its clients are also MCFD clients, and of other agencies on the committee.

With the permission of participating families, the committee meets monthly to consider individual cases and develop co-ordinated, collaborative approaches. Planning for social outcomes is a great example of the work Board Voice hopes will one day take place as a matter of course at the provincial level.

Here’s a story from the committee that illustrates the process:

Marnie and Keith have preschool-aged twin daughters. Marnie recently lost her job, and Keith is currently on disability. The family struggles to make ends meet, and have had to pull their daughters out of preschool because they can no longer afford it. Marnie, Keith and the girls are becoming increasingly socially isolated. Their MCFD worker would like to see them make some connections.

With their permission, she brings the case to the committee. The neighbourhood house in their area offers family meals each week, as well as financial literacy training for women, drop-in playgroups for the children and a weekly social group for fathers.

The committee member from that neighbourhood house agrees to take the lead on this file. She makes a connection with Marnie and Keith, who begin accessing these programs. A few months later, she updates the committee that Marnie and Keith are feeling supported as a family, and that Marnie has gone back to school to finish her high-school diploma.

The committee focus is on family strengths. The range of agencies around the table includes neighbourhood houses, single-parent support services, addiction and recovery services, and supports for women fleeing violence. In other words, all the best people are in the room, planning for the best possible outcome. Whether you’re doing that for one family or an entire province, it’s work that really matters.

Please join us in our call for a social-policy framework for B.C. Visit our website at boardvoice.ca to learn more, and reflect on what you’d like to see happen for your own family should the day ever come that the roof caves in. There is a better way.

Doug Hayman is the chair and former executive co-ordinator of the Board Voice Society of B.C. and was a former assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

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