Nov. 28, 2019
Honorable Rebecca Schulz
Minister of Children Services
Dear Minister Schulz,
ALIGN recognizes that Budget 2019 is a fiscally tough plan. The focus of the budget has been to get Albertans back to work, looking after the most vulnerable, while living within limited means and delivering on the UCP platform to reduce Alberta’s rising debt. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss the current situation and to understand your priorities in light of the 2019 budget and forecasted years 2020 and beyond.
ALIGN is worried that looking after vulnerable Albertans may be compromised. The non-profit sector provides services for your Ministry mandate in both early intervention and child intervention areas. As you are aware there has been inadequate financial support or growth, over many years in the area of group care, foster care and now kinship care. The children we serve require increasingly complex services which results in an ever increase in the staffing requirements; Occupational Health and Safety, and trauma informed service delivery. All of these increased demands have been added on since the last time these services were procured/contracted. We understand that the Government is trying to do more with less, but we have continually been asked to do so since 2006 and we are struggling to meet these demands.
The ‘bringing to balance’ budget, and the support for caseload growth, is admirable but as things stand right now there is a destabilizing factor. If the EI expression of interest is any indication, the services provided will have to be decreased and the amounts of funding will lower community based care significantly. An illustration of this is, food supports will not be provided as part of the new EI tender. This will mean that children living in poverty will not be provided with breakfast or hot lunch at school. We know hunger compromises brain development and the capacity to learn. In addition, as with many EI programs, funding is supported through FCSS, the United Way (12% decreased in Calgary to all agencies) and other grants. When one component of the funding formula is removed we often find the programming is unsustainable.
Your own platform about Civil Society explains that civil society should come before government and that voluntary groups are generally effective in preventing and reducing social problems and building healthy communities. We would argue that this cannot mean offloading responsibilities to the nonprofit sector without adequate resources to meet the needs of the community. As cuts to programs are made it is the individuals and families living in the communities that feel it the most. Suite 255, Bonnie Doon Mall, 8330-82 Ave Edmonton, AB T6C 4E3 www.alignab.ca
As you know, the Children’s Services’ sector is very sophisticated and diverse. This cannot be underscored enough as services need to be provided safely and effectively in the community and cannot be depleted any more. Nonprofits and agencies are very innovative and creative, but there are limits on what they can do – less is not an option.
We believe we are all motivated by having the same goals and wanting to improve the community. We believe the agency sector can do that in the community more efficiently and effectively than if the government had to provide the same services. We encourage you to research the costs of government youth assessment centers versus the youth assessment centers that are provided by agencies. The true costs (including staffing and infrastructure) are significantly different. Another area of comparison is foster care. Currently about 50% of foster care is provided by Agencies and the other half by authority workers. The agencies provide a significantly more supportive service to caregivers, and run their businesses on drastically less money than the governments run those same services. Let’s consider supporting and increasing these areas and decreasing government run services.
One area that would be helpful is if funding agreements were flexible, non-programmatic and longer term. We need to realize the full cost of doing business and how that will reflect upon the desired outcomes. Those then need to be funded adequately. While this is not the complete answer to the financial challenges it certainly can help with efficiency and better outcomes.
ALIGN strongly advocates for the knowledge, expertise, experience, and community based services that our members have developed. We request that you consider that those services need to remain in the community and can be stronger if the resources are focused in those same communities. Cutting is not an answer. Our members have indicated that even a 5% cut will close down most group care services in the province. They are walking a fine line now without increases since 2006. Along with flexible funding agreements, we encourage you to consider moving some of the government run services to the community and use that funding to bolster the sector, possibly in new and innovative ways.
ALIGN certainly would be happy to help form a working group to consider these changes, and brainstorm alternative service delivery areas, if that is of interest to you. We continually work collaboratively at policy tables and advocate for good services, as the vulnerable children and families in Alberta deserve to continue to be served well. Please do not make decisions without considering the disruptive factor it may have in many other areas of families’ lives. The front line services are aware of those and will work together to help provide services for communities even in restraint but can only do that if they are not significantly disrupted by process of finances. Suite 255, Bonnie Doon Mall, 8330-82 Ave Edmonton, AB T6C 4E3 www.alignab.ca
Rhonda Barraclough, BSE, MEd. RSW