Vancouver City Council
CITY OF VANCOUVER
March 21, 2005
CC File No.:
April 12, 2005
Vancouver City Council
Child and Youth Advocate
Child and Youth Advocate's Work Plan
A. That Council endorse the work plan of the Child and Youth Advocate..
B. That Council approve an increase in the 2005 budget of $80,000, source of funding to be from the General Program Account. For 2006 and beyond, $80,000 should be added to the budget without offset.
CITY MANAGER'S COMMENTS
The City Manager understands the complexity and dynamics of the role of the Child and Youth Advocate and the need for the Advocate to develop an awareness of the child and youth community at large. The Child and Youth Advocate developed relationships in the broader community of children, youth and their families as well as service providers. The Child and Youth Advocate has indicated through her work plan how she plans to further engage the community in order to fulfil the mandate set out by Council.
That Council re-establish the Child and Youth Advocate in 2003, to work within the framework outlined in the attached document and utilizing the information contained in the report previously requested by Council June 26, 2003 to guide implementation, and that this position:
- be independent and report directly to Council;
- be complementary to the existing childcare / child-development and youth-focus social planner positions;
- focus on systemic advocacy, speak out on issues and concerns on behalf of the City to other levels of government, and identify issues and make recommendations;
- work with the community to ensure that a wide range of children and youth voices are heard and included in the City's decision-making processes.
Council also approved the position of a part-time youth advocate apprenticeship position as well as a Citizen's Advisory Council.
The purpose of this report is to outline the Advocate's accomplishments since May, 2004, and to outline her plan regarding community engagement, development and advocacy over the next three years.
In July, 2003, Mayor and Council approved the re-instatement of the Child and Youth Advocate for the City of Vancouver. A panel of City staff and community partners conducted interviews for the position beginning in January, 2004, with a start date of May, 2004. The position is considered temporary with a three-year term that may be extended to a maximum of five years.
From May to December, the principle focus of my work has been community consultation, with the goal of developing relationships and building my knowledge base and understanding of community issues. During this time, I met with over 125 individuals, groups, and community agencies, as well as attended meetings and consultations. Vancouver is well served by diverse, dedicated community social service agencies, community centres, neighbourhood houses, community schools and many individuals who work in these services who are absolutely committed to their work.
I also did outreach to City departments with the same intent and goals as I did with the community. I talked to, and attended meetings with, staff on City planning, child and youth friendly cities, homelessness, drug prevention, child care, the Youth Task Team of the Vancouver Agreement; the list is as long and diverse as are community interests and needs.
I delayed the hiring of the part-time Youth Advocate Mentor as I felt it was important for me to do my own initial youth outreach; I felt that if a youth mentor was hired earlier I would not build the same connections as I would alone. In September, the job description, classification etc. was begun for the Youth Advocate Mentor and in October, an interview panel of staff and community members interviewed eight individuals out of over 190 applications. In November, 2004, the part-time Youth Advocate Mentor commenced her assignment in the position.
During the fall, I began the process of developing the Citizen's Advisory Committee and that committee has been meeting since early January, 2005. The committee is broad based, with a mix of youth and service providers in Early Childhood Development, Child Care and youth serving agencies, plus an elected member of the School and Park Board. Terms of reference have been approved by the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee has a wide range of diverse interests and experiences and therefore the process of consultation with them brings its own unique challenges. The goal of providing the Advocate with ongoing feedback and community insights is necessary and provides a link back to the community; however, the wide range of priorities of the members and differing beliefs in what can be accomplished, are great.
The committee has provided feedback and advice on the work plan and support its direction. A number of them will attend the Council meeting and will speak in support of the plan. A list of Advisory Committee members is attached as Appendix A to this report.
As our work is often complementary to existing City initiatives, I have come to be aware that one of the challenges which will continually face Caitlin and me is the importance of maintaining our independence of City staff and bureaucracy while maintaining collegial and cooperative working relationships. Moreover, it is critical that the community sees this independence as it is a core principle of the Advocate position.
The review of the Child and Youth Advocate position conducted in 1999 has been a useful reference tool as I shape the development of the work plan.
Key points for consideration arising out of the review are as follows:
Maintaining the position of the Child and Youth Advocate but framing it within a clearer system of accountability:
· Clarifying the mandate and scope of the Advocate's work with a focus on achievable goals;
· Linking the development of the Advocate's work plan with other initiatives of the City of Vancouver; and
· Clarifying the role of the Advocate as a facilitator of advocacy services rather than a spokesperson or lead advocate.
The work of the Advocate is broad, complex and often nebulous. The community's belief in what the Child and Youth Advocate can and should accomplish is sometimes overwhelming and not always realistic in terms of what one person can do. For the community, it is often difficult to differentiate between the role as the Advocate for the City and the difference between the City and province's mandate. Because community-driven services are often funded heavily by the provincial and federal governments, it is sometimes difficult to separate the role of the Child and Youth Advocate from other levels of government. Experience tells me that one cannot be all things to all people all the time. The challenge, therefore, is to identify from community involvement and discussion, issues which should take priority, which are doable, can build capacity of the community and can influence policy in order to effect change.
I fundamentally believe in the ability of individuals, community partners, agencies, and advocacy groups, united under one vision or issue, to effect change. It is therefore of critical importance for the Advocate to work with, and be accountable to, the community. The Advocate's role is to encourage, empower, help build alliances and to mediate differences.
I also believe the role is not to create work or to become a deliverer of services, but rather to effect change in order to ensure the City is a better place for children, youth and their families. True advocacy is most effective when shared and done collectively. The Advocate's role is to provide leadership and support to the community and sometimes to speak out with a loud voice. The Advocate's role also is to mentor and facilitate the building of community capacity because, just as parents know what is best for their children, community members know what is needed for their neighbourhoods.
The following were identified during my community consultations as areas that require attention in order to see improvement in the health and well-being of children, youth and families in Vancouver.
Housing - Both, Service providers and youth, identified the lack of an accessible, affordable continuum of housing, including supportive and secure, longer term housing, as an ongoing issue facing children, youth and families in the City. Housing is only one component of the larger continuum of concerns faced by street engaged and/or at-risk youth. The effects of ongoing poverty are completely debilitating and all pervasive and therefore solutions are complex and far ranging.
There are many dedicated people involved with street and at-risk youth but the issues are much larger than Vancouver's ability to address on its own. It is disconcerting and unacceptable that there are numbers of homeless and/or street engaged youth in this City and the fact that so many youth and families are unable to access safe and affordable housing is truly unacceptable in a just and fair society. Homelessness is a symptom of a much larger and more complex issue and needs a broad based, integrated response in order to address it.
MCFD Changes - The policy shifts provincially within the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), the Ministry of Human Resources (MHR) and other Ministries have been in-depth and far reaching. The attempted reorganization of MCFD, combined with reduced budgets, has impacted service delivery and therefore has affected a number of citizens. Service providers who were not successful in maintaining their funding are struggling to find different ways of continuing to operate. There is a level of anger towards a government that appears not to understand what the community needs. The Request for Proposal process (RFP) requires a level of staff support and sophistication within agencies that not all agencies have and therefore the well established and larger agencies are seen to be the "winners". Many community-based organizations feel there is no longer the opportunity to address issues as they arise and that they are not valued for their knowledge and connection to issues at the neighbourhood level. The loss of community capacity, knowledge, skills etc. for community-based programs that have lost funding is significant. This is causing disconnect and friction within the community.
Youth and Police - From both service providers and youth, I have been told that youth do not see police as a welcoming institution that will offer support and assistance but rather a force one is to fear and from whom help is not expected nor received. I have also spoken with members of the police force and I clearly understand this issue is one of complexity and is fraught with misunderstandings and inherent struggle.
Aboriginal Children and Youth - The Aboriginal community continues to struggle with a range of difficult and extremely challenging issues. Aboriginal children have the highest representation on the files of MCFD, youth are over represented in the youth and criminal justice field and sexual exploitation of young girls is very high. The effects of poverty, compiled with the historical effects of residential schools, compounds the overall systemic issues affecting Aboriginal children, youth and their families. Aboriginal children make up the fastest growing urban population in Canada and, while the Aboriginal community should be applauded for a number of fine initiatives and individuals who are making a difference in their community, ultimately it is the creation of greater social inclusion which will make a significant difference in their lives.
Drug Prevention - While some innovative programs exist, service providers and youth feel that there has not been enough attention and funding paid to treatment and prevention services. Many also think that that the recognition of the long journey required to overcoming addiction is sometimes not understood and programs do not always recognize that success often follows a series of failures. For example - too few detox beds and treatment programs that are youth friendly, and prevention messages which lack relevancy and are not meaningful to youth. The increasing use and effect of crystal methamphetamine cannot be undermined and is a complex addition to the mix of drug abuse.
Child Care - Child care within the City continues to struggle from the impact of provincial government policy change, funding reductions and no long-term plan at the provincial level for development and delivery of child care services. Child care is expensive for parents and often out of reach for low and middle income families even if they can find space. Child care subsidy continues to be difficult for families to access and recent administrative changes from MCFD make access for ESL parents particularly challenging. All programs have similar issues but stand-alone programs often suffer the extra burden of the lack of financial and administrative support. Wait lists are long and many families know their chance of getting the space they want is miniscule.
At the same time child care development in Vancouver has seen significant growth. One of the key challenges facing the City is how Vancouver can continue to support the child care structure in its current system. There is opportunity with the recent federal budget identifying $5 billion over five years, but until we know the direction the provincial government is taking, the City will continue to be challenged in supporting child care development and support.
Early Childhood Development (ECD) - Some agencies and organizations are encouraged by the flow of funding into the ECD stream and see this as an opportunity to engage with partners such as schools. Other organizations believe the artificial disconnect between ECD and child care at the provincial level is problematic and challenging for families and service delivery.
Advocacy Planning - Within Vancouver, there is no direct conduit for service delivery agencies or individuals to come together under a specific issue for planning and action. While advocacy is a role that is played by many individuals, community leaders and service providers, access to discussion from a network based position is lacking.
There will be four key areas that the Advocate's office will focus on:
· Development of Advocacy Planning and Engagement in Child Care;
· Development of Youth Network;
· Coalition for Kids; and
· Youth Police Dialogue
Advocacy Planning and Engagement - Child Care
Child care advocacy is well established at both the provincial and national level. Here in BC, there are two highly engaged and connected organizations - The Child Care Advocacy Forum and the Coalition of Child Care Advocates. In Vancouver, while many of the large child care organizations are linked to the advocacy movement, the smaller stand-alone programs do not appear to be so. In collaboration with Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre, a provincial organization and one that is knowledgeable of City of Vancouver child care programs and issues, I will facilitate the development of an advocacy engagement process with the goal of organizing programs under a network of information sharing and advocacy building which will include the parent voice.
This work has a very direct link to the City's report "Moving Forward" Child Care: A Cornerstone of Child Development Services, April 2002. This report states the goal of facilitating stable, flexible, quality Childcare by:
· influencing the publicly funded system and keeping childcare paramount of the federal and provincial agenda;
· facilitating a mechanism for improving the quality of childcare;
· developing new support systems which will increase the financial and administrative stability of non-profit childcare centres over the next 5 years; and
· identifying a model and funding strategies for delivering flexible childcare.
Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre will be contracted to provide coordination and administration of this work. I see real opportunity for complementary work with the Child Development Coordinator in linking development of neighbourhood child care hubs with the advocacy network. It is understood that further development of the neighbourhood hubs require significant provincial funding for infrastructure support. In the meantime, Advocacy planning can begin with a select group of neighbourhoods within this proposed budget. This is consistent with the City's vision as set out in "Moving Forward".
In summary, the Child and Youth Advocate will:
· develop advocacy planning with small stand-alone child care programs within Vancouver neighbourhoods; and
· develop the parent advocacy voice.
Youth Network - Youth Advocate Mentor
Vancouver is a city full of dynamic and engaged young people and their supporters. Youth are involved in issues, action and advocacy, addressing everything from poverty and homelessness to immigration and culture. Many youth are participating in projects, are working in youth serving and youth driven agencies, are sitting on advisory committees and councils, and much more. While there is incredible energy and momentum around many of these initiatives, all too often, many of the participants are so involved that they do not have the opportunity to network, to partner, or to share ideas and inspirations with each other. There is no broad-based system or network in Vancouver that youth, or youth services providers can "tap" into.
Through many consultations and discussions, it has become clear that the idea of a city-wide network resonates well within the youth community. The Youth Advocate Mentor has a unique position well suited to the network. Her work focus is broad-based and city wide, with links to the City, City staff and City initiatives, as well as to the diverse youth community and its partners. The Youth Advocate Mentor can resource and staff the development of the network and ensure adequate representation and resources in order to ensure meaningful participation of youth. The Youth Advocate Mentor also has the ability to ensure that she remains adaptive and responsive to community needs, and be aware of where certain voices may be missed or under-represented. The Advocate is also in the position of a listener, hearing of attitudinal and systemic barriers that may challenge youth's engagement and capacity.
Key functions of the network would include "connecting the dots," a conduit between and amongst youth, community and City initiatives, networking meetings, "smooze events", capacity building and skills sharing events, advocacy/advocacy training and skills-building and identifying issues and informing (links to City planning and advocacy).
On March 28, 1995, Council, upon the recommendation of the Child and Youth Advocate, approved the Vancouver Civic Youth Strategy (CYS). It is a statement of commitment to work in partnership with youth and the larger community to:
· Ensure that youth have "A Place" in the City;
· Ensure a strong youth "Voice" in decision-making;
· Promote youth as a resource to the City of Vancouver;
· Strengthen the Support Base for youth in the City of Vancouver
In June, 2003, Council reaffirmed that youth are a valuable resource to the municipality by resourcing four youth as City staff to make this policy commitment come to life. The Youth Outreach Team (YOT) is a mechanism for youth engagement for the CYS. The primary purpose of the YOT is to increase the meaningful participation of youth in municipal decision-making.
The Network will also link and is compatible with the work done by the Youth Outreach Team. The Youth Outreach Team can support the network in communication outreach and technical support on their web-site.
The network will not be limited to current initiatives, agencies and projects, nor will it limit participation or membership to youth who are already a part of a project or agency. Independent individuals may seek out the network to learn about projects that exist, to participate in skills-sharing or to partner with others to start a new project or advocate for a specific issue. It will be a platform for future engagement as well. Once youth are linked to the network, it can be a vehicle to disseminate information or generate interest. Examples of future functions of the network include: further youth engagement in the Prevention Pillar of the Drug Strategy, youth engagement in the Child and Youth Advocate's work plan (rights-based monitoring and Coalition for Kids, Police and youth dialogues) and youth engagement in planning and projects for the World Urban Forum. The network will become a mechanism for many marginalized youth, such as youth with disabilities, street-involved youth, immigrant and newcomer youth, lesbian, gay, transgender/trans-sexual, two-spirited and bisexual (LGTTB) youth and aboriginal youth, to become engaged and be heard as well.
While the Youth Advocate Mentor will be responsible for the initial facilitation and development of the Network, long-term planning, development of goals and its continuation will be determined by the youth community.
In summary, the Youth Advocate Mentor will:
· develop a youth network linked throughout the City; and
· liaise with and compliment the Youth Outreach Team
Coalition for Kids
On March 12, 1992, The Vancouver Children's Policy was endorsed by Mayor and Council. The Child Advocate stated in her report to Council:
"Perhaps the Convention's greatest usefulness is as a guide to advocacy and action. If legislation, policies and programs are implemented, evaluated and monitored, based on the standards contained with the Convention, then the rights of children will be advanced."
In early 2004, a group of youth serving agencies identified difficulties with the provincial government's RFP process and began discussing ways in which to deal with these difficulties. Under the facilitation of the Vancouver Foundation, discussion expanded to encompass a rights-based focus using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Coalition has developed a Statement of Purpose which reads:
Recognizing the interdependence of Vancouver communities and neighbourhoods, the Coalition for Kids is a broad citywide coalition of youth, adults, area service networks, advocacy organizations and community agencies whose purpose is to work towards the creation of a Vancouver in which the rights of all children, youth and families, as agreed to within the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, are understood, protected and supported.
The Vancouver Foundation has funded the Society for Children and Youth to help develop a monitoring tool on child and youth rights. Building on existing networks of trained youth facilitators, a "train the trainers" series will prepare teams to work with community organizations and established youth groups to undertake the monitoring process. Focus groups will be held using the monitoring tool, to engage children and youth in discussions on how the UN convention on the Rights of the Child can impact them and to encourage discussion on how the Convention can be used to improve circumstances for children and youth in the City. Coordination of the youth rights based training and facilitation of the monitoring tool will be done through the Advocates office and will require the hiring of an auxiliary part-time coordinator. Costs of this position will be covered under the Advocate's existing budget.
In November, a conference with youth service providers, parents, community members and government officials and bureaucrats will be held to discuss the learning of the monitoring project. One of the goals of the conference is the development of advocacy planning which will come together under a city-wide network to formulate action plans for issues affecting service delivery in the City, such as how to develop a rights-based perspective in funding and service delivery. The Society for Children and Youth will be responsible for the costs incurred by the conference.
The Advocate has the ability to take a unique position by ensuring that there is consultation with and input from the agencies, children, youth, families and community groups whose experience is sometimes under used in the planning and implementation of relevant policies and initiatives. Members at this advocacy network would be diverse and come from all spectrums of the City, including family representation, as families are a constant, are a resource and are one of the important voices for community. The Advocate will be responsible for facilitating initial coordination and planning of the advocacy table.
In summary, the Child and Youth Advocate, working with the community, will:
· coordinate a youth rights-based training and facilitation of the monitoring tool;
· work with the Society for Children and Youth to plan and deliver a conference in November, 2005, which will discuss the learning from the monitoring project; and
· work with the Coalition for Kids in the development of advocacy planning and delivery.
Youth and Police
The community consistently expresses concern about an apparent lack of understanding on the part of Vancouver Police regarding youth issues. More importantly, Police are perceived by youth and some youth service providers to be aggressive and confrontational in their approach to dealing with youth. While I appreciate the inherent tension between youth and authority, I believe there is an opportunity, through dialogue, to decrease the tension and build understanding of roles for all involved. Any intervention must recognize that police are mandated to ensure the safety of citizens within the City of Vancouver and this must always be their first responsibility. Youth need to appreciate this mandate and find ways to work within the system while still feeling respected by the members of the police force.
I am recommending a plan to work with youth across the City to identify issues they want to address and to facilitate the development of their communication skills. I am suggesting that, in conjunction with Caitlin and her networking goals, we plan a series of focus groups to glean a better understanding of the issues. We will offer training sessions on enhancing communication and dialogue skills so that issues can be presented in a non-confrontational manner and to encourage understanding of other points of view.
This will require the cooperation of the Vancouver Police Department and I have entered into discussions them. They have expressed willingness to be a part of the process and see the benefit of shifting perceptions for both parties.
The focus groups and training sessions may culminate in a day long session at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in which both Youth and Police will engage in facilitated discussion with the goal of building some common understanding of each other's issues and needs.
It is very important that I acknowledge the very good work that is being done in some communities with regard to community/police relations. I have been informed by community members of the high degree of satisfaction some communities experience with the community police stations and school liaison officers. Much groundwork has been done and any further work should build upon known successes.
Aboriginal youth, through Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA) and Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association (KAYA), are working with members of the Police on an Aboriginal Working Group. I have been asked to sit on this working committee and have observed a sense of genuine willingness to work together on affecting change within both of these communities. Leaders in the Aboriginal Youth Community should be given credit for showing some significant leadership skills. These same leaders are also showing tenacity for their issues and I support both their work and tenacity. I think it is important to note that these young people are competent, capable and dedicated to their agenda. It will be important to engage this working group in the youth police discussions.
In summary, the Child and Youth Advocate will:
· facilitate focus groups and communication training sessions with youth; and
· organize and deliver a dialogue session between youth and police.
Finally, and separate from the work plan, the homelessness housing situation requires ongoing vigilance. Changes should be noted regarding housing, in that the Premier has appointed the Mayor's Task Force and new money has been announced. The City's Homeless Action Plan makes many sound recommendations but the City cannot accomplish the goals of the plan alone. It is a fact that the numbers of homeless people have increased in the last three years and less people are on social assistance than prior to 2001 largely due to cuts to welfare benefits and a further tightening of eligibility rules. In 2003, the BC government announced its intention to reduce the Ministry for Human Resources operating budget by $609 million (or over 30%) over the next two years. There is recent community concern that the youth homeless situation has increased. I will continue to monitor the situation by attending meetings, being available to hear community concerns and to engage City staff who are presently working on the file.
In order to fully implement the work plan of the Child and Youth Advocate, including the work of the Youth Advocate Mentor, it is necessary that the budget of the Child and Youth Advocate be increased. Council originally approved $150,000 for the Office of the Advocate. I am recommending that for 2005 $80,000 be added to the budget, source of funding from the General Program Account. For 2006 and beyond, $80,000 should be added to the budget without offset. The budget plans are as follows:
Coordination of Childcare Advocacy
Youth Police Dialogue
In conclusion I look for Council's support of this work plan. I again thank the City of Vancouver for its forward thinking and progressive attitude in reinstating the position of the Child and Youth Advocate and adding the position of the Youth Advocate Mentor.
A progress report will come forward to Mayor and Council on an annual basis.
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CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Community Youth Worker
Street Youth Job Action
Britannia Community Services
Director of Youth Programs
BC Co-operative Association
Youth Advocate Mentor
City of Vancouver
St. James Daycare
West Coast Child Care Resource Centre
South Vancouver Family Place
Community Youth Worker
Dunbar Community Centre
Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association
Vancouver School Board
Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation
Mary Clare Zak
Society for Children and Youth
Executive Director - Comm Dev.
Collingwood Neighbourhood House
Family Services of Greater Vancouver
North Shore Multi-cultural
Youth Community Developer
Child and Youth Advocate
City of Vancouver
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