Island Voices: No one should have to suffer by themselves

You probably don’t know that March is Community Social Services Awareness Month in B.C. Most people don’t. You might not even fully understand what I mean by the phrase “community social services.”

According to the numbers, someone in your life, at some point, will rely on community social services to get by. Maybe one of your elderly parents will need a caregiver. Maybe you have a sibling with a disability. Perhaps a close friend or coworker will go through a rough divorce or need help escaping an abusive relationship. Maybe it will be you.

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Many of the services that the provincial government provides to the people of B.C. are provided through contracts with community organizations. These include services and supports for families, for children and infants, for young people involved in the child-protection system, for people with disabilities, for those trying to find jobs, for foster parents, for newcomers to B.C., and for older adults. This is what “community social services” means.

Our work helps ensure that other public services, such as health care and education, can focus on doing what they do best. Just talk to a police officer or your child’s teacher or your doctor or nurse and ask them what their jobs would be like without social workers, counsellors and child-care workers. Try to imagine what your community would look like if those services disappeared. Who in your life would be left to struggle alone?

So why haven’t you heard about Community Social Service Awareness Month?

First, people are aware of nurses and teachers and doctors and the role they play in society because you can see them every day. We see them in ads and on TV and in our schools and clinics. But compared with other sectors such as health and education, we’re less visible and we get a much, much smaller slice of the provincial budget.

Second, the dedicated, hard-working staff of these community organizations would rather do the work than explain why it’s important. They’re often underpaid and overworked and too busy caring for foster children, the elderly, people with disabilities and women fleeing abuse to organize fundraising or awareness campaigns.

Third, when roads or schools or hospitals are failing to meet the needs of the community, people protest and make noise until the government increases funding and improves the situation because the whole community is affected in a very clear way. For our services, it’s usually one home that breaks down at a time — it’s one relationship, one family, one child or one senior who is affected. And so it’s not until these breakdowns accumulate to a disastrous level (e.g., the opioid crisis, tent-city-level homelessness) that people realize the social fabric of their community is unravelling.

Our line of work is poorly understood, so we don’t get much attention unless something goes very wrong. But Community Social Services Awareness Month is one way we’re trying to change that. This month is an opportunity to recognize the thousands of people who work day and night to make our communities happy and healthy, and to learn about the services and supports available across the province.

Some of you might want to support these programs by volunteering or donating. Some of you might need to access these supports in your community. Either way, I encourage you to look up a community social services organization where you live.

Wherever you are, we’re here to help. So spread the word.

Rick FitzZaland is the executive director of the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C., an umbrella organization representing more than 140 community social service agencies across the province.

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