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The Failures of Government and Non-Profit Systems

Our ethnic children and youth are not receiving culturally responsive services, as culturally responsive services would include involving family members like parents and grandparents – something ‘mainstream’ services for the most part don’t do because they don’t have the time or the language capacity.

Non-profit System 1The same government funding model for multicultural health and emotional health services has been in place for the past few decades – yet the population of ethnic communities has increased exponentially over the same time. Compounding this statistic is the fact that funding for Surrey schools and health services (Fraser Health) have not increased relative to its population growth, so per capita funding for Fraser Health residents is considerably lower than per capita funding for Vancouver Coastal Health residents.

Time and time again, when asked, government (the Ministry for Children and Families, Fraser Health, Ministry of Education, etc.) officials will acknowledge the discrepancies – but almost always have offered up the same response, “Unfortunately there is no new funding.” Efforts by many to have them reconsider the model, without changing the overall amount of funding, have been unsuccessful.

Governments are not the only ones to blame for this sorry state of affairs. The service providers themselves are often more concerned with funding than working together, and they often fail to collaborate to help their mutual clients – after all, collaborating means sharing of funding and some of these agencies have no interest in sharing money. Many have developed bureaucracies (managers, assistance managers and directors) and high levels of administrative expenses (like rent and equipment) so that whenever little pockets of funding are secured, a large portion of it doesn’t even go towards direct client services. This bureaucracy is not unlike government bureaucracy – although a big difference is that every so often governments will actually look at their bureaucracies and will hack and slash away to make them less top-heavy. Non-profits have to do with less funding but that doesn’t mean they are hacking and slashing away at their bureaucracies; often less money for them simply means a reduction in front-line services.

So what does all of this mean? It means that teachers, school-based counsellors and other counsellors are stretched so thin that they can only work with a handful of the cases in front of them, resulting in many of our children and youth and their families needing but not receiving much needed assistance. Many of these youth will experience mental health difficulties and/or potentially fall into dangerous (drugs, gangs, etc.) lifestyles. Consider all of the youth – including South Asian youth – who have died as a result of gangs/the drug trade – how many of them could have been saved if there were culturally responsive and appropriate services in place for them?

Our ethnic children and youth are not receiving culturally responsive services, as culturally responsive services would include involving family members like parents and grandparents – something ‘mainstream’ services for the most part don’t do because they don’t have the time or the language capacity. It also means that we have a one-year waitlist in Surrey for South Asian men who are required to take domestic violence programs, compared to little to no wait for English-speaking populations. How many of our children, youth and families are struggling, waiting for the men in their family to get the help they need?

There is one funded alcohol and drug counsellor for South Asian communities in Surrey, while there are about a dozen for English-speaking communities, despite Surrey’s population being 30-40% South Asian. Again, how many of our children are being impacted by alcohol and other drug abuse because the help isn’t available to them or their parents?

Few outreach/education services exist, yet we know that many ethnic community members are not going to access current services, and most ‘mainstream’ services do not engage in outreach, but simply say “we’re open, come see us but we don’t have the language capacity to work with ethnic communities.” The reality is that these agencies wouldn’t know what to do if ethno-cultural community members came to their door – other than refer them elsewhere.

The sad reality is that while our systems like government, schools, health and non-profit are doing a poor job of meeting the needs of ALL vulnerable families, it’s much, much worse for South Asian and other ethnic communities. It’s important to note that what is failing us is not the workers, but those in charge of funding and how funding is distributed – who are, and this is no coincidence – separated from the ‘human’ aspect of the work.

South Asian communities are vibrant and strong, and like other communities, we are not immune to family dysfunction, addiction, mental health, domestic violence and other social issues. We could wait around for some of these governments and community service ‘systems’ to get their act together and actually serve our needs appropriately, but frankly that may never happen. So maybe we all need to look from within and come up with the answers. After all, within our communities we have the strength, the talent, the compassion and the commitment to help each other.

So while one should look at the needs of the community-at-large and try to help out where help is needed, do not forget to also look closer to home. Is there something you can do to help someone in your family or extended family deal with addiction, mental health, family difficulties – or the stigma that they may feel from those issues? Or is there an elder relative or a relative who is a new immigrant struggling with social isolation that you can visit, in order to ease their struggles? Would speaking out and taking a stand against violence or gender bias help someone struggling with those issues? Or perhaps there is a charity or non-profit that you can donate to, one that actually spends most or all of its funds towards a service that helps those in need in our or other ethnic communities? Maybe it’s time we did what we no longer can entrust our governments and non-profits to do.

Gary Thandi
Genesis Family Empowerment

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