Staff closed the doors of the Greater Victoria Child and Family Counselling Association (CAFCA) with much sadness on Nov. 30.
It marked an end to 25 years of high-quality service that CAFCA has provided to vulnerable members of our community.
Ten years ago, the association had 24 full-time child protection and youth counsellors working with clients referred by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the sole funder of the agency. Two years ago, we were down to 17. As we close our doors and transfer the last of our programs to Phoenix Human Services Association, there are now just seven counsellors doing this work.
Some of that change is about shifting resources in the community. But mostly it’s about a significant erosion of government support that once helped vulnerable children and youth to thrive and contribute.
Association counsellors worked in the community to meet children, youth and families and they were key “navigators” for connecting clients with other services.
They helped parents who were having trouble being the parents their kids needed. They helped youth in care, and those in need of protection. Our counsellors helped young people and families to learn about how to take better care of themselves and to set their lives on a more positive trajectory.
We know that what happens for children and youth has a huge impact on their lives and on our community. But here in B.C., we also know that youth leaving the child welfare system are more likely to end up in jail than graduate from high school. We know that people who experience trauma as children and youth are more likely to suffer from addictions, mental health challenges and cycles of criminality.
The right supports can change these patterns. We know that as surely as we know that an aging bridge needs to be fixed or replaced to prevent future harm. So, why do we allow our social infrastructure to be eroded when all the research and our own experiences tell us that to allow this to happen will only lead to increased suffering and far higher costs down the road?
This opinion piece comes a little late for the association and it’s fair to wonder why we didn’t speak out sooner. Unfortunately, despite positive working relationships with ministry staff, many of the community organizations contracted by the ministry are afraid of reprisal should they make their concerns public. We need to return to more open and collaborative dialogue between the community and the Ministry of Children and Family Development about the best ways to deliver quality, effective services.
We recognize that the ministry and community social service agencies have a tough job. The association was well known throughout the community for its ability to build strong relationships with other community agencies and ministry staff. It was praised by the International Council on Accreditation for its high standard of practice and quality of services. It was an accountable and effective agency and its closure is a great loss to the community.
The closure of the agency is a reminder that now, more than ever, we need to work together. As a community, we need to stand by the people who need our help. We need to educate decision-makers on the dividends of investing in social infrastructure.
Smart supports for vulnerable children, youth and families foster dignity and create opportunities for positive change. The right supports also enable people to become healthy participants in our economy and within our neighbourhoods.
Without these strategic supports, we will inevitably create greater social and economic losses as more people are unable to join our skills-based workforce. We will continue to pay more for expensive, crisis-related services that come too late to prevent problems.
The right choice seems clear. The loss of the Greater Victoria Child and Family Counselling Association and many other vital services in our community are heartbreaking reminders that we continue to make the wrong choices.
Dr. Rachel Phillips is a member of the association board.