Community Social Services

Saskatchewan has evolved from a rural society with relatively stable communities and family relationships, to a much more urbanized province in which citizens are mobile, time-pressured, and faced with numerous challenges to everyday life as individuals and families. Over time, a number of social services have developed or been organized in order to help people address some of the challenges of life. In Canada there are very few direct social services that are operated by the federal government. The government of Saskatchewan offers a significant range of services such as income support for individuals, employment programs, child protection services, etc. These tend to be programs where uniform standards of service from community to community are important, or where programs have elements of enforcement that may not be appropriate for governments to delegate to neighbours and communities.

The majority of non-mandatory social services are organized within individual communities, and tailored to some degree to the specific needs of those communities. Where uniform service is not critical to good outcomes for citizens, local social service organizations and providers have certain advantages over government: services may be more easily tailored to local circumstances, and local volunteer resources may be engaged in management and governance, thus increasing the effective value of public investment in such services. In many cases community social services are operated by a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors. Boards of directors are legally responsible for the affairs of the organization, including hiring and supervision of a senior staff member, usually an executive director, who in turn hires and manages the other staff of the agency.

There are several possible funding sources for community social services. Most social service organizations receive at least a portion of their funding, directly or indirectly, from federal, provincial, or municipal governments. Other sources of funds include private charities and foundations, donations from members or the general community, fund raising, community events, and user fees for service. Some community social agencies are affiliated with provincial or national organizations that provide a recognized organizational name, infrastructure, and full or partial funding. Some may also take part in local fund-raising, co-operative groups such as the United Way.

The range of social services available in Saskatchewan varies considerably from community to community. One service that is widely provided is support for children and adults with disabilities. Such services may range from residential services to rehabilitation support, developmental activities, training, and employment initiatives. Examples of this type of service are Cosmopolitan Industries in Saskatoon, the Redvers Activity Centre, or Estevan Diversified Services.

Most major centres have a women's shelter, like Transition House in Moose Jaw or Shelwin House in Yorkton for women leaving abusive domestic relationships. Most urban centres also have personal counseling services such as Family Service Regina or Saskatoon's Catholic Family Services. Some communities have after-hours social service and crisis intervention services such as Swift Current's Southwest Crisis Services or Regina's Mobile Crisis Services. Larger centres have services to help in the readjustment of those who have been in conflict with the law - the major organizations being the John Howard Society for men, and the Elizabeth Fry Society for women.

Most larger communities have a food bank or similar organization that gathers, organizes, and distributes surplus local food supplies and collects cash or food donations from the public to help lower-income people meet their food needs. Examples of this type of services are the Regina Food Bank and the Moose Jaw & District Food Bank. Some food banks are co-located with meal services, clothing thrift shops, budget counseling, and other supports to people managing on low and modest incomes.

There are a number of community social service agencies that serve the needs of children and youth. Early childhood development programs exist in most major centres. Agencies like the Rainbow Youth Centre in Regina or the Lashburn Teen Wellness Centre provide help to youth experiencing difficulties. In a number of communities, Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations match adult volunteers with children and youth to provide mentoring and personal guidance. Local social service organizations play important roles in the management and administration of public housing assets and programs, and in capacity-building services like employment preparation, job referral, and workplace support.

Certain social services that are otherwise provided by the province are offered by community social service agencies in First Nations communities. First Nations child and family service agencies, for example, were organized initially to provide child welfare services to reserve communities that are beyond the province's jurisdiction. These agencies now also work co-operatively with provincial agencies when community members live off-reserve. First Nations governments are expanding the range of social services they provide to members of their communities, both on and off-reserve.

Some community social service agencies define at least part of their mandate as advocacy on behalf of low-income or disadvantaged people. One example would be Regina's Welfare Rights Centre that provides financial trusteeship services, helps individuals with income support problems, and advises government on income support policy issues. Other agencies like the Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centres act in part as advocates for systemic change in government and community approaches to disability supports. Some agencies act as umbrella organizations for a variety of programs and services. Yorkton's Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbours (SIGN), for example, is involved in the operation of group homes, and coordination of services such as budget counseling, sexual assault services, early childhood intervention programs, child and youth mentoring, and other responses to community needs. This agency is also involved in mental health supports, family/school programs, parent education and other services, and is often a leader in community development initiatives.

Since most community social services receive some form of support from government, changes in government approaches to helping citizens can affect the organization of services in communities. One emerging trend is individualized, self-managed help for individuals to purchase services, as opposed to subsidies to service providers. This approach supports self-reliance and independence, and gives the service consumer more choice and power in controlling service quality and outcomes.

In some service areas private social service providers play a role. Private service providers are active, particularly in larger centres, in some aspects of disability support, and private suppliers also operate some types of residential care service. The vast majority of out-of-home child-care services purchased by Saskatchewan families is supplied by private individuals and small businesses. As a general trend, governments are moving gradually away from direct provision of services to citizens by government employees. As a result, the community social service sector has grown significantly in the past few decades. To the extent that social services are developed further in the future, this is likely to take place in most cases through local agencies and service providers.

Because public funds flow to these services, governments, acting on behalf of taxpayers, are looking for ways to ensure that services are efficient and appropriate, without unduly interfering in the details of the management of local social services. One emerging approach is for government and service providers to agree on strategic goals and on measurable outcomes that can be tracked to assess the effectiveness of the service. While there is progress to be made in the coordination and focus of the overall sector, there is little doubt that locally organized social services and personal supports, whether provided by private or non-profit operations, are important to the quality of life of communities and their members.

Rick August