HALIFAX, THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2003
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Ms. Marilyn More
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would like to bring the meeting to order, please. We are delighted to have with us representatives of the Youth in Care Newsletter Project this morning. We thank you for your patience. I understand you were scheduled some time ago but because of the election and all the changes, we are delighted to make you our first group to present to the new committee. I welcome you all here this morning.
I think we will start with introductions. I would like to remind everyone, especially our guests, if you would like to have your name actually recorded, perhaps you could use the floor mic there, otherwise it won't be picked up. So, Diana, do you want to start?
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So, Andrew, do you want to introduce yourself and perhaps the students and your other guests.
MR. ANDREW SAFER: I am Andrew Safer, the Project Manager and Facilitator for the Youth in Care Newsletter Project on behalf of the Children's Aid Society of Halifax and the Family and Children's Services of Cumberland County in Amherst. I have, to my right, Rebecca Herrett who is representing the Amherst group. Thank you for making the trip, Rebecca. To my left, Ammy Purcell, representing the Halifax group. We also have a number of other participants in the Halifax group. Over here, Trevor Dakins, who has been involved all three years in the project and Tina Doucette and Tony Beamier behind me. This is Stacey Greenough, who is a social worker with Children's Aid and extremely supportive of the project, and who am I missing so far? We are expecting some others.
First let me say we are extremely honoured to have the opportunity to address you and to talk a bit about this project. I would like to call your attention to this packet that was distributed just a few minutes ago. I don't mean to go through the entire contents of this because I think the youth should do most of the talking here today but what I will do is hit some of the highlights.
I thought we could take a look at who the participants of the program are and it is for youth in care so the youth live in either foster care, group homes or independent living. The ages range from 14 to 19, although we had a 20-year-old in the group at one time. As I said, the project is being carried out in both HRM and Amherst. At the moment, we don't have funding for the Amherst project so it's not going on. The Halifax project actually just started last night. We had our first session.
We use the phrase youth at risk to define this group for a number of reasons. They are in the child welfare system, there has been abuse or neglect in their lives at some point, an unstable home environment. There could be issues with lack of parental guidance. There are a lot of negative circumstances beyond the youth's control, causing them to feel frustration and a whole variety of emotions that make it very challenging for them. There is increased stress due to family breakdown and the fact that they often have to move frequently causes problems with building relationships.
So, really, for this group in particular - it's true for all youth but for this group in particular - the need for engagement is very key, and engagement in a number of areas. So we now have Chris Cruickshanks, who was involved with the group last time as well, and Brandon Farmer who is a new participant as of last night. So thanks for coming.
When we talk about youth engagement in terms of school work, social skills, developing employment skills and linkages to the community are really areas where that engagement needs to be fostered. The newsletter project provides a positive peer group environment for the youth so that they are engaged in activities that are positive. What they are doing is relevant because they are actually identifying the issues themselves of what they are going to be exploring in the newsletter. It is the real world because it is not an exercise, it is actually a newsletter that goes to government and being here is testimony to that. There is mentoring that goes on between the ones who have been involved longer and the new ones and we are actually going to be increasing that element this year.
There is generally a can-do feeling, I think, that develops in the youth. They have a lot to say and if we can help them by providing some tools and guidance, they can actually make a difference so there is a lot of empowerment there. All of those are engagement elements.
So as far as the program itself goes, there are five modules and without going into detail here, the first one is really laying the groundwork for creative self-expression so that they start to feel comfortable about organizing their thoughts, putting things down on paper, drawing as well as through illustrations so that they get that out and there is an expression. There are a variety of techniques used to develop that.
The second module, we talk about having an emotional vocabulary which is really about the underlying emotional life. A lot of these are very difficult emotions so helping them to identify those emotions and articulate them, to a large degree through their writing, is what that module is about and learning that if they can communicate assertively that it is much better than putting a fist through a wall or getting into a fight.
The third module is where they start interviewing other youth in care so that what they write is representative of more than just themselves and they do interview quite a few other youth. That involves learning some other skills. In addition to interviewing, taking notes, transcribing tapes and so on.
The fourth module is where they are now pulling all of this together. They have identified their issues and they are gathering material and they are writing their articles and doing their drawings to go with the articles. So there is a whole range of processes coming into play, including working with the editing process. That includes working with spelling and grammar issues as well as structure. So that gets right into where they're ready for the newsletter to come out.
Then there's the Web training. We have a Web site, and I'm hoping you have had a chance to look at it. They have had a lot of input, they've actually put their articles onto those Web pages through the Web training sessions that we've had at the Kyber Digital Media Centre. So they learn how to scan images and so forth. Those are employability skills as well. The program outcomes. There is a whole sheet on this. I don't think we need to go into them in detail. For me, self-efficacy, which is the belief that they can make a difference in their lives, is maybe the biggest one, the biggest outcome. Certainly being here is a huge boon to that for them.
Just a little bit about how this all came about. The Department of Community Services was key in the very beginning, as far as identifying the need to have programming for youth in care. HRDC and the Department of Community Services joined together, giving financial support through the Youth Employability Project. Our first program was in the year 2000. It was YEP, an initiative coming to the Children's Aid Society saying, we would like to support a program for youth in care. I had developed another program for Children's Aid, so Barrie MacFarlane invited me to get involved, and the whole idea of a newsletter came out. Nick Field was involved as well. Many others at Children's Aid are involved.
What evolved was a 16-session program that ran from Fall to Spring, and then this Web-training component, which is facilitated by a Web design instructor who teaches at NSCAD, Mark Harrington. It was a fairly intensive program, meeting once a week. We have here the numbers, at the bottom of the sheet - sorry, the pages aren't numbered. In the first year, for Halifax, there were 11 youth who showed up at the first session, and there were seven at the last session. In the second year, there were eight in the first session and five in the last session. Last year, there were nine in the first session and nine in the last session. So I think it's an indication that the attraction is there.
In Amherst, we had 10 at the first session and it went down to three at the end. That was in the first year. Just to say, the fact that it has run in Amherst does show that it can be replicated in other areas. There's a sheet here that lists the partners, there's quite a few partners. Our newest one is the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. We have partnerships with a lot of very relevant institutions and individuals, showing that there's a lot of community support but I think most important for the youth is that they're getting to know a number of people working in the community, in different areas, so it's providing that engagement to the community in that way.
There's a sheet on the project funding, which shows an evolution, Youth Employability Project providing most of the support in the first and second years, and then a big decline in the third year. We have John Hartling here, I believe. This is John, with YEP. They've been tremendously supportive of us. The decrease in funding is not indicative of lagging support, it's more that their own funding was significantly reduced. We've had some issues of having to constantly look for our majority funding support from other sources each year. We can talk more about that later.
As of just a few days ago, the Department of Community Services has signed an agreement with the Children's Aid Society of Halifax to be the vast majority supporter, financially, for this year. That was through the Canada-Nova Scotia Skills and Learning framework, and we really appreciate that commitment from DCS. Again, YEP is also a significant supporter. We have a sheet about the financial sponsors.
We went to the Kartbahn go-cart place as a final meeting between the two groups, where the Amherst and the Halifax youth met. We just had to raise a little bit of money outside the program budget. So that's what that's about.
We have a number of success stories here that I just wanted to leave with you, to peruse when you have time. A lot of them are about getting school credit for the work. These are youth who may have failed particular courses, who did not fail those courses because of the credit. There are also stories of getting jobs, directly because of their involvement with the project. Tony is one example of that. There is a whole bunch of success stories there. The group is quite proud of these achievements.
The main thing to say about the funding challenges is we do not have any sustained funding for the program. We're going into the fourth year. It has made it difficult to do long-range planning and so forth. The other agencies that participate in the project, for example Dartmouth Youth have been involved, have also not had money from their operating budgets where they could contribute to it. So there's really been a shortfall in terms of monies available.
This last sheet is about planned and potential programs for 2003-04. I just wanted to say that we originally planned to have two groups in Halifax, because we have such a high percentage from last year continuing. As a matter of fact, it's probably about 80 per cent of the youth who were involved last year that are continuing this year. In order to have enough room for the new ones, we figured we would want to blend the groups but we really should have two groups. The finances really aren't there, so we're having one big group. As I said, the Amherst program, so far, is not funded, but a proposal is in to the Canada-Nova Scotia Skills and Learning framework, Truro office. They've told us that by Christmas they should know about that.
The idea of a day program is just to say that there are quite a few youth in care who are not in school. During the day, they don't have this type of opportunity at all. As a matter of fact, I believe, according to recent studies, 30 per cent of the youth who come into care are not in school at the time they come into care. The idea is to have a day program that would be this type of format and have these types of elements in it. But that's just an idea. The Nova Scotia Youth Centre in Waterville has expressed an interest in doing a newsletter project, but there hasn't been a way to fund it.
Sorry I had to go through all of that, but I'm delighted to have the opportunity. At this point, do we turn it over to anyone else who would like to make comments before we have the question-and-answer period?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, I think we would like to hear from some of the participants, and then we will open it up for questions.
MS. REBECCA HERRETT: Good morning, my name is Rebecca Herrett. I am 18 years old and I am currently in Grade 12. Before last year I never had the opportunity to express my opinion on foster care. Last Fall I had that chance to participate in the Youth in Care Newsletter program. It's amazing how uplifting it can make you feel to know your opinion counts. The boost in my self-esteem is amazing and it is noticeable to everyone who knows me. I now know I can reach all my goals, due to participating in the group and help from Andrew with all my grammar mistakes and spelling mistakes. I participate in more school activities, more community activities, and I have added responsibilities at my job, which are all reflections of my newfound understanding of foster care and the participation of this group.
Now that I have your attention, I would like to discuss some of these issues that I think can change foster care for the better. The first one I discovered was the lack of information the community has on foster care. I think we need to educate them that we're not all deviant or problem children, and more times than not, it is not our fault we are in foster care. A lot of foster children feel like outcasts in the community, due to the fact of the negatives people conceive of hearing the phrase "foster child". I think that is why we need more information out in the community. Education stops ignorance.
The next issue I would like to tackle is the hesitance in having older foster care children. They stop at age 16. Like, if you're 16, you can't get into foster care, or it is harder. Being 18, I know how much I need older people supervising me and telling me what I am doing wrong, and giving me support. I know not all teens want this but where I am going out to college next year, I need that support, and knowing someone is there for me and caring. I think it should be made available for those people who do.
I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak in front of you today. It has meant a lot.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Rebecca. Can I just ask you, how did you get involved in the project?
MS. HERRETT: I got a letter in the mail from Andrew and I accepted it. That is how I got involved.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay. Ammy, did you want to make a few comments? How did you start with the project?
MS. AMMY PURCELL: I was living in a foster home and my friends that I have known for a while, they were doing it the years before, and then I got asked if I wanted to go join and I just did it.
MR. SAFER: Did you want to say anything about the TV interview? That is pretty interesting.
MS. PURCELL: Yes. One of our last meetings, Global Television came in and they were interviewing us. She interviewed a few of us and I was put on Global News. She asked me to talk about one of my articles. That was very interesting because then everybody saw it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, congratulations. What part of the program did you enjoy the most?
MS. PURCELL: I think I just liked being all in one room and the brainstorming part. I liked the brainstorming part because then we would all just throw our ideas out and put it on paper. That's interesting.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Why do you think you started with 10, down to three, was it, in Amherst?
MR. SAFER: That was in Amherst.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oh, sorry, I'm on the wrong side, yes, okay. So you went from nine - all nine stayed in that group, I think, in Halifax.
MR. SAFER: Yes. There is some turnover as far as individuals over the course of the year because of the instability of the population. I guess we added as many as we lost in instability.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Did any of the other participants want to comment?
MR. SAFER: Chris, are you sure you don't want to say something?
MR. CHRIS CRUICKSHANKS: Positive. (Laughter)
MR. SAFER: It's a little bit intimidating. I just want to say that they work in journals, hand-out journals and they do their assignments, so it is all in one place. I read in Chris's journal last time, the comment of his teacher - because he turned it in to his teacher what he had written and it had to do with the government. The teacher said, we should invite your MLA to the school to get involved with this. So I thought that you might want to say something.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We have been joined by Joan Massey, who is the MLA for Dartmouth East. Welcome, Joan. Also, Barrie MacFarlane, who is Supervisor of Adolescent Services with Children's Aid Society. Welcome, Barrie.
MR. BARRIE MACFARLANE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I saw a hand. Mr. Hines.
MR. GARY HINES: First of all, I would like to make a comment. I know one of the major obstacles for any group that does anything similar to what you do, athletics, or whatever, fundraising is always a problem. As an HRM councillor, and now that I have moved on to provincial politics, one of the things that I stress in my community, and is starting to have an effect and starting to work, is the fact that - because I remember back to
my youth when we did fundraising - we, as the youth, did the fundraising for all of our events and so on.
I think communities, for the most part, have lost the ability to fundraise. They have looked to governments more and more for support, for all projects. I am not saying this to be detrimental or derogatory, or anything, but I think the answer to a lot of your problems in fundraising is corporate Canada.
An example, recently, to just show you how easy it can be sometimes, I was approached by a school teacher at one of the schools. She had identified a book called, Run, written by a local author. It was a Terry Fox story, where a child who had gone wayward was saved by actually meeting with Terry Fox. Anyway, she told me that she had access to 25 of the books. She couldn't get it added to the school board's list of reading for this year, she would like to have it for her class, did I have any funding? I knew I didn't have any funding. So I went out and said, you know, it's time that I put my money where my mouth is, in terms of encouraging people to go to corporate. The first guy I asked bought the books for that reading class.
Now, I know all the valuable lessons that these children are learning and one of the valuable lessons they can learn is that corporate Canada has money too. They all have budgets for this kind of thing. If you are there first, you will get that money. I know that you don't have the time sometimes to do that but that is just a suggestion.
I applaud you for what you are doing, seeing the youth in my area and so on, getting involved with them and getting them involved. It is a tremendous experience. This lady here on the end, she never stops smiling. (Laughter) Probably, she didn't always smile like that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to congratulate each and every one of the stakeholders here today that have come before our committee, particularly the key stakeholders, our youth. I have always maintained that our youth are the trustees for prosperity.
I know, almost without any hesitation, it is safe to say that many are in care through no fault of their own. I think that goes without saying. I think it is very difficult for a young person, and I can say this because my sister and her family were foster parents for many years, and the foster children became part of our family in so many ways.
Adults, in many respects, that see their children go away from them are really children themselves and the children don't have an opportunity to understand the rationale as to why they end up in a foster home or in the care of someone else other than their own family.
I like to think positive on so many things. It is an opportunity to grow. You take your experience, you build on it and you can do so much for others that come behind you. It can be pretty frustrating, it can be pretty lonely and you think that nobody cares about you but there are a lot of people out there who are inspired by what you are doing. I would encourage you to continue to do that.
A brief question, Madam Chairman, follow-up. I do support what the previous speaker has suggested but I was a little concerned about the insecurity of the budgetary process. I will direct this question to the director. I notice, this Canada-Nova Scotia Skills and Learning Framework program. What is the breakdown on that? Is that a 50/50, 60/40, or what is it?
MR. SAFER: The way that works, and John can correct me if I am wrong about this is that it has quite a few different government departments around the table. When the proposals come in, they are vetted and the ones who are interested in that proposal then end up with a follow-up meeting with the proponent, and then there are negotiations and so on.
So in that case, HRDC and Community Services were both interested in the proposal, met with us, what we were planning to do didn't really fit the guidelines for HRDC but the Department of Community Services did want to support the project and so then the negotiations ended up being just with DCS. So, the Department of Community Services is providing 100 per cent of that funding.
MR. MACKINNON: I heard through your dissertation that there was a kind of a reduction in funding. Like every year, I'm looking at year one, $19,000-plus, year two, it was $16,000; but then it jumps up in year three to $40,000 and in year four, $42,700; that would appear to be an increase not a decrease.
MR. SAFER: You are talking about the total program costs?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes.
MR. SAFER: The program has evolved, we have added program elements over that period of time, it has also proven to be quite labour intensive. There was a significant amount of hours spent on the part of the consultant, ourselves, that ended up being in kind because the budget was only so much but the project had to go ahead. That has happened pretty much every year. Last year there was a significant amount of hours in that category. So I guess it is a combination of those reasons that the total program cost is more. In addition, we have a bigger group, there are more youth involved now, not just showing up at the first session
but I'm anticipating it is going to be strong through the years, so there are more requirements through the year related to that. I think that is as much of a complete answer as I can give.
MR. MACKINNON: Just a final supplementary on that, I believe you may have answered it in part by suggesting that there is an increased demand for the service and for the activity that all of the young folks here today are participating in. I see that as a positive because they're opening up and we're starting to understand some of the problems that they're experiencing. Once we see them and we see the end result of a lot of frustration or neglect, or rejection, or whatever the situation would be, we are actually getting to the core of the problem by interacting with the people most affected. What I understand you to say - and I would like you to confirm this - is that there is a considerable demand for this type of project and if so, can you quantify as to what you would foresee within the next five to 10 years? I know that's kind of grasping a bit, and this is a pilot project per se, but I think as policy makers it would be very helpful for us to understand the dynamics, because the social implications are profound.
MR. SAFER: I very much appreciate the question. Barrie, would you want to answer that one?
MR. BARRIE MACFARLANE: That's a very good question. As you know, working with youth is tough and it's really not getting any easier and at times, I think we feel overwhelmed by the need. When you have been at it as long as I have been at it, the notion of meeting all of the needs kind of recedes on the horizon. But I think this project is - a friend of mine has an expression, it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness - is a candle and it represents a different way of doing things and a much more intimate contact with youth than we might otherwise have. With caseworkers and case loads, the numbers are so high and the work is so demanding, and it's so crisis oriented, that there isn't really the time to get close to the youth and to understand where they are coming from. This project not only helps us understand but it really spreads the word, if you will. I can see a place for this kind of program in every community because the methodology is really solid and it's fairly easy to duplicate, and I see no end to the need for it. I don't know if that answers your question but I would like to see this grow like McDonald's. I think it could, and I think the need is every bit as great.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langille.
MR. WILLIAM LANGILLE: Madam Chairman, I also commend the students here today and I would like to hear from some of the others on what your plans are and what grade you are in and so on. Don't be shy to come up to the mic. Having said that, one should never forget their journey to success and I'm sure you people won't. Just for the record, I have a few questions to ask. How often is the newsletter published?
MR. SAFER: It's once a year so it's at the end of this whole series of 16 sessions and five Web sessions, there is a launch and it will come out around May, I would expect. It has been coming out once a year.
MR. LANGILLE: What is the circulation area?
MR. SAFER: We had 1,500 printed last time. We send them quite widely, not just to government, to community groups, youth groups, there are some principals of schools on the mailing list, and media, there is also the National Youth in Care Network. So it actually gets across Canada through them, we send as many as we can. I have heard reports of youth in Alberta reading the newsletter and reacting to it, so it does even get out of Nova Scotia and then it's handed out by the Department of Community Services through the regional office, they hand a lot out to their staff.
MR. LANGILLE: With that you answered my next two questions by the way and my next two questions were how do you circulate the newsletter - it's by mail, and how many copies of the newsletter - I think you replied 1,500.
MR. SAFER: There is one thing to add though, now that you have brought that up. The Web site is another source of disseminating the information. All of these articles are on the Web site - I think there's one year that might not be there but most of the three years are. We also do an e-mail distribution, when there's a new newsletter, we send it out by e-mail. For example, the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Social Workers Association, Harold Beals put that announcement on their listserv which goes to quite a few social workers, and they get the link to our site, so we try to use that as much as we can, as well.
MR. LANGILLE: Also, last night I had the opportunity to look at your newsletter and what is the message that you're trying to get out?
MR. SAFER: Why don't one or a couple of you answer. Tina, please come up to the mic. What kind of messages are we trying to get out?
MS. TINA DOUCETTE: Hi, I'm Tina Doucette and I'm 15 years old. I think the message we are trying to get out is that it's not easy living in care and sometimes there are problems and we just try to solve the problems, how to fix them. That's about it.
MR. SAFER: Tony, please.
MR. TONY BEAUMIER: Hi, I'm Tony Beaumier. I'm 19. What I try to get out of this is that I think we need more foster parents because I think that some kids who go into group homes kind of get a different reaction to it. They go with the wrong crowd so I think
a family setting is better. So by doing this, hopefully, some people realize that foster care is where it's at and we just need more of them.
MR. LANGILLE: I thank you very much. Go ahead.
MR. SAFER: Trevor, do you want to say anything?
MR. LANGILLE: You were getting up.
MR. SAFER: You have some ideas about the message we want to get out.
MS. PURCELL: I think that the message that we want to get out is just our own opinion. Whatever opinion we have on CAS and what it does, just speak our minds.
MR. SAFER: Just for the record, that was Ammy Purcell.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So this is a way for you to be heard. Thank you very much.
Mr. Gosse and then I'm going to see if Ms. Whalen wants to ask anything because I know she has to leave at 10:00 a.m. and then we have Mr. Hines again.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: I can let Diana go first because she has to leave at 10:00 a.m. So feel free to go ahead.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: She may not have a question yet. You go first, Mr. Gosse.
MR. GOSSE: Well, my background is actually working with youth in the Province of Nova Scotia. I spent the last 20 years of my life working with youth at risk in the Whitney Pier area of Cape Breton. I do a lot of work with the Children's Aid Society in Cape Breton and I have taken youth at risk off the streets of Sydney and Whitney Pier and found employment preparations and had 53 youth, your ages, between 1997 and now, we have taken 53 youth off the streets of our community. I would just like to say it is difficult for a young person to come and speak in front of politicians and I know it does take a lot of courage for you to be here today.
Being adopted myself, I kind of know the ins and outs of emotions and highlights and ups and downs of being a teenager in those years of school and foster care. The stigma has always been with foster care that everybody in foster care is no good. It's a stigma, the same thing with the group homes. You go to the group home, you learn how to smoke dope, you learn how to party, you learn how to do those types of things and those are some things that you didn't learn in your own community but you learned them in the group homes.
I started a youth centre in Whitney Pier, actually, back to your question of funding and those types of things. For 10 years of my life I was the executive director of a youth centre but I spent 10 of those years of my life writing proposals for funding. I see that you have written for the community mobilization program. My kids, in Whitney Pier, had done a sexuality program - it's under the Department of Health site in Ottawa. There were 44 youth from Whitney Pier who did that. So I do know what can be accomplished by youth getting involved.
For years, working with kids, I always put on my letterhead, youth don't care what you know until they know that you care. I see here today, I do know that you care about your surroundings and where you live. That's very important. Every year in the summertime, I always took a youth in foster care, what I called a youth in care, to work in the summer grant. Every year, for the last six years, I've taken a youth in care and given them a summer employment job for six to eight weeks. I found it very good for their self-esteem and also getting their first paycheque and helping youth in care set up a back account. Those things are important.
It was very emotional reading some of the letters last night and I found them to be very interesting. I do see some things in the letters sent to social workers, caseworkers and youth workers, like myself, and the guidance counsellors and the principals and let those people have those newsletters so they will know what's going on with youth in care. So sometimes there may be something difficult happening at school or in your life, and I think that by the newsletter letting these people be aware, whether it's your caseworker, your principal, your guidance counsellor, more compassion can be given to youth in care and I find a lack of that within the education system and them not knowing what is going on in the surroundings, I found to be very difficult, myself.
I became a good proposal writer, so maybe I will speak to Andrew when I'm finished here today and tell him how many - I actually joined the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy and became a member. I accessed somewhere around 50,000 grants across North America to apply for funding for youth at risk. Even locally here, I will give you an example, Clarica Life Insurance Company has a site where you can access funding up to $20,000 or so for youth in care and stuff like that. They have an organ donation one; they have an educational program; and they have a youth one. I know what it's like and I know the struggle, like I said, for youth in the community.
Being from Whitney Pier - like the young gentleman who stood up at the microphone and said, you have this reputation if you're in a group home - you had a reputation from living in that community, it was the same thing, if you were from there you were no good anyway. So I do know what it's like, it's almost like in the movies, from the other side of the tracks. So I wish you all the best and I'm glad that you are here today to make your point, I think it is a very valuable project.
The more people know what's going on with our youth in society today, the better they can help and get involved in some of these projects themselves. I think it is very important to let your community know, let your politicians know - at all levels, and that's why I'm here today as an MLA because I got tired of fighting for the funding and I decided I was going to do something about it and run to become an MLA and that's why I'm here today.
I thank you all for coming and your beautiful letters were excellent, actually, I read every one of them last night, to be honest with you, and it was pretty interesting. I really enjoyed them and it takes a lot of courage to put your feelings and emotions to pen and paper. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Whalen.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Thank you, I appreciate that. I just had a couple of questions and some comments, as well as the others have. I'm wondering why the Education Department or some form of literacy hasn't been one of your funders, and that would be a question for Andrew.
MR. SAFER: Education Department . . .
MS. WHALEN: Some of my volunteer work in the past has been helping with literacy through the library programs that we have here in Halifax. At a number of the library centres you can be matched with somebody and go in and work with them one on one. I know there are programs like that around and I just thought, to me, you are looking at credits for school, it ties directly into the curriculum you are doing at school, at all ages and grade levels, and it seems to me that it is really improving their interest in school and helping to improve literacy. I just wondered if you had explored that.
MR. SAFER: That's a great suggestion and do you have a name of someone I could actually contact about that?
MS. WHALEN: We could get you a name, I'm sure. I'm not the Education Critic but I will find out.
MR. SAFER: We haven't actually tried.
MS. WHALEN: Through the school board, I certainly know Carole Olsen, who is the Superintendent of Schools and I think she would be interested in hearing about it because I think it's really valuable for all young people at different ages to be able to do this, and to discover the power of communication. That is really what I was sort of gathering, was that you have discovered that when you write down your thoughts, they have a certain power. You can communicate with others, you can start to influence and change people's
perceptions, change the way they are looking at the world and in this instance, specifically, how they view foster care.
I have to agree with Rebecca when she started off by saying, people don't know anything much about foster care, and I would have to include myself among that number. I see the big billboards once in a while when it's Foster Care Week, or they're looking for more people to step forward to become foster parents, but I don't know much more than that. Having a newsletter like this is a great idea.
MR. SAFER: Actually, Barrie has come to me just now, the Department of Education, would they be interested in supporting kids who are not in school?
MS. WHALEN: Well, I think most of your kids in school are getting a credit, whether it's the flex program, like Tony said, they are in our schools, many are.
MR. SAFER: Most of them are but there is still a high percentage who are not.
MS. WHALEN: It's in the interest of the Department of Education and school boards to help kids get back to school, too. If you are between the ages of 14 and 19 and you haven't completed your high school program, then you want to get back in there and at least get the qualification, right? This is just so important, as I say, the basic building block of learning is reading, writing and communicating. So it's just such an important skill because once you realize you can do that effectively, then the whole world opens up to you, I think.
I think there could be an interest and I would explore it because if it's community services and those areas, we're saying, here's youth at risk, troubled youth maybe, or different labels that we've attached. I'm thinking these are students, or potential students, if they're not there now, that's where they should be - in school. So it's a way to help capture their interest again and get them back into the school system and realizing the power of education, too.
Communication is the thing that struck me and when you're talking to politicians, we're all pretty much big communicators because that's what our business is, really, words and ideas and being able to communicate effectively with each other and trying to change people's views one way or the other. You can learn that there's a real power to that and I think it's wonderful that you're doing this to make people more aware.
The other thing that struck me as really exciting in what you're doing, is the partnerships you've created with other groups. I noticed Kings College students helping with the writing, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design with design, cartooning and drawing. I think those are really important and what I was going to suggest to you is that the value that you're giving to those students and adults who are coming in to supposedly mentor you, I'm sure they're getting 10 times more out of it than you are. Every adult that you come into contact with, or even these university students, the people they know will become better
informed. There is a whole cycle where one person suddenly realizes more about what you're doing and where you're coming from and they tell others, it really has a big power to spread the perspective that you present, so I think it's a real value.
I know just having done some literacy volunteering myself, in the library, I found that very useful but that was just one on one. You are reaching a lot of people, so this is certainly a program that all of us would like to see more funding, either through the corporate avenues, or different ways - if there are ways to help you because I'm sure every community could benefit by at least making this available to those young people who are interested. It's something that I think we should really encourage with other communities, to take on and do the same thing. I'm just really pleased to see it there and again, I found, reading through the evaluations at the end of the year and so on, what people liked and didn't like and how they found it had influenced their lives, very, very good. So I would encourage all of you to stick with it and to encourage other people to join in and do it as well. It's a tremendous benefit to those people who are reading it, as well as to yourselves.
MR. SAFER: Can I just make a comment? Something you said triggered the thought. One of the King's students who has worked with the group, his name is Mike Ayyash, and he's now a Global TV reporter. I don't know if the group had even noticed that but the fact that he was involved with our group and like you say, he had an opportunity to learn about youth in care, and now he's a TV reporter; that's pretty good.
MS. WHALEN: That's right. And he's in a position now to follow those stories and bring that message forward, you're right, and he'll do that probably through his professional things. The other thing, too, are the job skills you are learning which are really valuable. What struck me right away is you're doing newsletters, and there's hardly an organization out there that isn't responsible for communicating and getting their message out, so every group is doing newsletters. Even MLAs do regular newsletters, so that we can send them out to our constituents and let people know what we're doing or what the government is doing and keep people informed about our communities. It's a tremendous skill and I'm sure it will lead to summer jobs or opportunities for you to be able to be employed because that's something that's very widespread and people need that. You actually have examples of your work and can go forward and say, I participated and the training is really practical at the same time and that's a big plus, too.
I'm a mother of teenagers myself and I know how they agonize about what they will do and what will they be when they grow up and those sorts of things. It's hard to say but everything you are learning helps to give you the building blocks to get going in life. I think that's really important to look at that as job preparation, it's very important.
Anyway, I'm really impressed with the program and I just want to thank all of you for coming and again, I know the others have said it, but it is difficult, it is intimidating for anybody to come and speak with us, so we're really appreciative that you would come in and take the time, thanks.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Whalen. I would just like to add, I think she has articulated some thoughts in the back of several of our minds because many of us around this table had been involved in the past and various aspects of education. I think, on behalf of the committee, we could offer our help in facilitating a meeting with the appropriate person at the Department of Education and possibly, also, with the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, which might be another group that should be contacted. We would be pleased to help you with those arrangements.
MR. SAFER: Thank you, very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Now, my practice is always to recognize first-time speakers, so, Gary, I'm sorry, I'm going to bump you and ask Ms. Massey to ask her question.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: Thank you. The exact word I had written down was, impressive. You just said it. I am so impressed. It is so hard to be a teenager nowadays. I have three. I just want to let you know that we are listening. We are going to take this information back and try and do whatever we can, all of us, to your benefit.
I have heard you say, I think, Rebecca, that your number one interest was to educate the community and I think you are all doing that here today. Number two, the item I heard was that this should not end at the age of 18. I totally agree because one of my children, so-called, is 21. I still have to drive him back and forth. You know, you are still involved in their daily life. They move away from home, they come back and I think a lot of us have dealt with that. Definitely, you need continued support and this is certainly one way in which that can happen.
The part that I am really enjoying here is your self-expression. Certainly, you must have got an A in public speaking, Rebecca, because you did a wonderful job there. I think you are all doing fantastic.
The journalling part - and I'm sorry, I missed the majority of the presentation but I tried to scan through this. I found, personally, myself, in times of stress and going through different things with my family, I would write in a journal. In fact, the other day I came across something I probably wrote a couple of years ago. You just read through it and you think, well, look at what has happened since then.
I think it gives you a moment to reflect, maybe, on what your thoughts, hopes or dreams were, even just what is going on in your daily life, just to get it out there. Sometimes there is not always someone around to listen to you verbally express your feelings so it is good to get that down on paper. I hope you are doing a lot of that.
Again, I would just like to reinforce what Marilyn has said in that we will all try to connect with whoever we can in the hopes that we keep these programs going and continue to fund them. I know you are falling into the same trap as a lot of other organizations that are going from year to year, trying to operate on funding that isn't concrete. So thanks for coming in. It was quite enjoyable.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Glavine, I think you would be next because you haven't spoken before.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you. I certainly am pleased to see this group before the committee today. Having a lifetime background in education, I certainly want to commend the youth for their time here today. Also, getting on your feet, I know, is never easy. I always found that helping people break through that barrier is enormously important. I can see already how this program has helped students move from one level to the next, in terms of expressing themselves, as Joan alluded to as well.
It is not often in politics that you move from something so connected one day with the next. I know, when I leave here, I am going to be facing the farmers. (Laughter) But, certainly, yesterday, I was in Annapolis County at the Nova Scotia Community College. It is the location for the Annapolis County Literacy Network. To see people there from the ages of 19 to about 40 years of age struggling with literacy, certainly brings home the important connection here.
Projects like this will help young people either stay in school or recapture the need to be in school. These are now people, either who have not been able to find work, simply some of them haven't been able to read an ad in the newspaper. Any time where, I think, we are advancing literacy with young people, giving them this vehicle to express themselves, is very positive.
I would like to say that at a time when I know funding for projects is becoming tighter and tighter, I think, in terms of a priority area and looking at, again, supporting the future of young people as workers in Nova Scotia, I think there is a wonderful connection here. I think we, as government, need to listen, and listen well, to what is being said today.
Also, I think I would, perhaps, advance the idea of working with some of the literacy networks. They are now established in many of the counties of Nova Scotia. The thing about those is that they have already identified some of the key people and support networks. They are also in the business of raising funds for their projects and some of them have some good
ideas along that area. I am certainly willing to provide some names, and so on, of those literacy networks. I just wanted to make that comment.
MR. SAFER: Could I respond to that?
MR. GLAVINE: Yes.
MR. SAFER: Literacy is obviously quite a key part of what this is all about. In Amherst, we had a situation where there was one of the males in the program who had a very little literacy level. What tends to happen is that they don't necessarily come to every session, all 16 sessions, but the ones where there is traction, they do keep coming back. So he did keep coming back. There were absences but he kept coming back. We made the effort to connect with a literacy tutor who we brought in to the session to sort of work with him.
At the launch, he spoke up and said that he was much more comfortable around reading and writing than he has ever been before. He didn't say that now he could read and write, which I wouldn't expect, but I think part of what happens in the case of someone who has very low literacy, if they are with this group, they see the power of what can happen when you can read and write. They see the actual evidence of it with the newsletter when it goes out, the media is interviewing the kids, all of this is happening and they are part of that.
My sense is that it could have the effect of being a real impetus for them to go into a more intensive, actual, literacy tutoring kind of situation. I am thinking in his case that that may be what is happening.
I also wanted to mention, we do have a partnership in Amherst with the literacy organization. I think it is called - what is the name of the literacy organization? No? Okay, I don't have the name of it. But just to say, definitely, we are on the same page about that. Any other contact information you can give us with names about literacy would be great.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay. I have for the speaking order, Mr. Hines, Mr. MacKinnon, Mr. Gosse and then I am adding myself.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: I would like to make a comment, as well.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oh, sure. You go first because you haven't spoken before.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I guess, first of all, I have to apologize. I didn't have the information. I am replacing Mark Parent on this committee this morning so I didn't get the briefing book and the information that most of the other members have. I didn't get to read what some of the other members did last night.
I guess I just have to congratulate the students for their efforts and for being here today, to share their information with us. It is truly good to see. Not knowing anything about your program until today, I guess, it is very informative for me.
I guess one of the questions that I would like to ask is, HRDC was a part of your program when it initially started, are they still a part of your program now?
MR. SAFER: Their participation was in the Youth Employability Project which is both HRDC and Community Services. I believe most of the support was Community Services - John, correct me if I'm wrong - in the early days.
MR. JOHN HARTLING: Well, yes, it was a funding partnership.
MR. SAFER: For the first two phases of the program. Am I right in saying that?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excuse me. Could I just ask you to use the mic because we would like to have this in the official record. Thank you.
MR. HARTLING: My name is John Hartling with the Youth Employability Project. I guess just to explain, YEP was a partnership through the former LMDA or Labour Market Development Agreement which is now CNSSALF, Canada-Nova Scotia Skills and Learning Framework. For the first three years, it was a partnership between HRDC and Community Services. We do a lot of employment-related programming. One of the components of the project is giving out grants for youth projects and programs and Children's Aid to do this newsletter. Over the past five years, YEP has sponsored, in small amounts, what we have been able to, over 100 youth projects in the HRM. HRDC kind of stepped back from us.
MR. CHISHOLM: I wonder, Madam Chairman, would it be appropriate if we include HRDC in our list of people that we are going to write letters of support for the program and then funding for the program?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I think they have applied for their Amherst program to HRDC, right? But you have been refused, you don't currently meet the criteria for the Halifax office?
MR. SAFER: The Amherst program, it was the same group that we applied for the Halifax program, the Canada-Nova Scotia Skills and Learning Framework. HRDC would be looking at the proposal as well as DCS, Department of Education and so on. We don't know the outcome of that because they are still reconstituting the committee that reviews the youth proposals, which is why it is delayed. But HRDC would have an opportunity to look at it. Now my understanding of HRDC, what I have been told by HRDC, is that they are interested in supporting programs that are not educational, programs that are work force oriented, preparatory to entering the work force. We are straddling both of those but they require an
intensive amount of, well, 30 hours a week of activity or instruction, which is a more intensive program than what we have right now. We would be interested in exploring the possibility of doing that but it would be a different program than what we are doing now. So basically, there is certain criteria that you have to meet in order for HRDC funding to apply.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Our earlier offer was to help set up a couple of meetings. Perhaps I could suggest, I am not even sure what our practice is, but if you do need a letter of support at some point, you might come back to us . . .
MR. SAFER: We will.
MR. MADAM CHAIRMAN: . . . and we would consider that quite seriously.
MR. CHISHOLM: One more question. Are there any thoughts of expanding the program through other parts of the province?
MR. SAFER: When Barrie was mentioning that earlier, I was thinking of some e-mails, the project received, from youths in the Valley who had read the newsletter and I believe in your materials there were some e-mails there which are confidential. There is a social worker in the Valley who is quite interested in the program. There are some youths, that is just one example where there are indications there is a need. I would like to see, if your constituencies have agencies that are interested in this and they could get a hold of us, and I have business cards here to give you. So that we can find out from the grassroots level, is there an interest in this? I mean, we think there is an interest and a need but if your communities tell you, yes, there is a need for something like this, then we should talk and see how we could move forward.
I mean, one idea I have is, our website is a fairly substantial website right now. It is reflecting newsletters of two communities. I think, if we could start to have groups active in other parts of the province, we could get into some interesting collaborative work space between the youths, for example. This is one idea I had.
If there are youths in Whitney Pier who want to address the issues of foster care, on the topic that Rebecca was talking, for example, that they could collaborate on research and writing an article together. We would set up a collaborative work space through the website. That is just one example.
It could connect youths from different parts of the province. I know that some of the people in administration at Children's Aid have been thinking along the lines of using the web, the Internet technology and computers to help broaden the youths' horizons and forge some
of those contacts with other youths and other organizations. I think there are a lot of possibilities.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hines.
MR. GARY HINES: Just a couple of questions. How many of you know who your MLA is, and your councillors?
MS. HERRETT: I found out today.
MR. HINES: That is important. I don't think there are any MLAs in the province who would not like to sit down and have a meeting with you in their constituencies so that you can present what you have presented to us.
I think, as you go forward and meet with corporate people and so on, that it is incumbent that you have a combination of leadership and youth to go with you. It would certainly be difficult for most of the corporate people that I know, who have budgets, to meet in a forum like this, listen to your presentation this morning and not write you a cheque before they leave.
MR. SAFER: That's good to hear.
MR. HINES: One of the other things that I want to point out is that, in terms of circulation, I know in my area, there is a newspaper called, The Weekly Press. It is out of Enfield and it is parented by a newspaper out of the Pictou County area. They are always looking for content. They are always looking for something new and I am certain that - and I will give you my card so you can get in touch with me, get the numbers for the Weekly Press. Also, the Daily News now have, on their staff, individuals who do reporting in the HRM area from specific areas. They each cover an area and they have a weekly column.
I think that that is an avenue for you to go contact both the Daily News and the Chronicle-Herald. There is a good opportunity there for you to probably establish a column so that your individuals can report - can do individual letters. I think it is only a matter of making contact because they are always looking for content and new content, and particular issues dealing with youth. So I think if those contacts are made, that you will open the door to greater circulation and to a reading audience. Also, it is very gratifying for the individuals to have themselves published as well.
MR. SAFER: A great idea, yes.
MR. HINES: It is one step in realizing that you have made an accomplishment. I think those things can help you. I will give you my card before I go and I will also get yours. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Education is the fascinating aspect of this entire presentation. If you look across in the courtyard there, you will see a statue of Joseph Howe. In the famous words of Joseph Howe - I think he once quipped - "I know the value of education by the lack of it." I think that is certainly something that each one of the young people can grab onto today.
I would like - there is a young gentleman down back. He seems to be getting off a little easy here today. No one has asked him any questions.
MR. SAFER: He just started last night. (Laughter)
MR. MACKINNON: You just started? Well, welcome aboard. I would like to ask each one of our youths here today, in coming here today, if you could tell us in your own words just one thing that you would like us to do for you, whether it is getting you a cup of tea or whether it is helping you with your education, whether it is a social issue or whatever. If there is just one thing that you could tell us, in your own words, what would it be?
MR. SAFER: That's a great question.
MR. MACKINNON: I know this young lady here spoke about her long-term concern about financing her education. I think that is very important for someone in a very difficult situation. Looking ahead, I think that spells volumes for the leadership qualities of this young lady and I do see that she has a very bright future ahead of her, irrespective of her walk of life. If each one of your participants could tell us, in their own words, just one thing that they would like us to do to help them. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be small.
MS. HERRET: I would have to say either support or understanding. You have to have just the support to know that you're there and you do consider us important in a way. You know, we're foster kids. Understand us. That would be like an amazing feeling for me to know that people understand or support me.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you.
MS. PURCELL: I really have no idea.
MR. SAFER: Can you think of one thing? Come on, seriously, can you think of one thing that if they could do - if they could be a genie and do anything.
MS. PURCELL: I really don't know.
MR. SAFER: We'll come back to you, Trevor.
MR. TREVOR DAKINS: Me?
MR. SAFER: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Can we just invite people to come up to the mic. I know it is intimidating but it is the only way we are going to have it on the record for Hansard and that we can give you the full report afterwards.
MR. DAKINS: Okay. My name is Trevor Dakins. I am 18. What am I answering?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So this is your wish list.
MR. SAFER: Anything that this group could do for you, what would it be?
MR. DAKIN: I really don't know. I don't have the capacity, really, to ask anything of anyone, but it's the same thing as Rebecca said. It is just support and understanding. That is all, really, we could ask for, I think.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you.
MR. SAFER: Tina?
MS. TINA DOUCETTE: Hi, I'm Tina Doucette. I am 15. What I would ask is for more programs like this. This is really good help for us. It is like support, so what they were saying.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MR. SAFER: Chris?
MR. CHRIS CRUICKSHANKS: I'm going last.
MR. SAFER: You're going last? (Laughter) Okay.
MR. BEAUMIER: I'm Tony Beaumier. There is really - I think that you guys can't do everything. I just think it has to come from everybody, like the youth, guardians, government, everybody. It is not just all on the youth, it is not all on you guys, it is not all on whoever is involved, it is everybody should just come together and make it better.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MR. SAFER: Why don't you read an article? Do you want to? Okay, let's see what we have got here. Okay, there is this one about the size of the caseloads and there is another one about the government. You could pick one of those. Which of those?
MS. PURCELL: My name is Ammy. I am 15. First, I would like to say, I know just as much about you guys and what you do pretty much as much as you guys know about foster care before we came here. I don't know very much about any of this kind of thing.
MR. SAFER: Do any of you want to talk about the size of case loads or about money for youths to do things?
MS. PURCELL: Yes. I have an article in here called, How? It is just talking about - that money is a big problem with Children's Aid because there were cutbacks and all that stuff. The newsletter helps us have some spending money for ourselves to do extra stuff, like go the movies and things like that. I would like there to be more things like this. That's about it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thanks very much.
MR. SAFER: Chris, please, come up here. Say your name.
MR. CRUICKSHANKS: My name is Chris Cruickshanks. I'm 15. My first question is, who is my MLA?
MR. HINES: Where do you live?
MR. CRUICKSHANKS: Spryfield.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Michele Raymond. She is not here. She is not on this committee.
MR. CRUICKSHANKS: I just want you guys to just listen to us and that's all, just listen.
MR. HINES: Andrew, if you want to give us your wish list. You are number one.
MR. SAFER: I would like to be able to do this full time and I would like to be able to help other communities get started with this. There will be adaptations, that's fine, but I think after three years we have proven that it works so I would love to see Nova Scotia be the first place on the planet that is actually making this happen in all different regions. Nova Scotia could be the template for other parts of Canada and other parts of the world. So there you go.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gosse.
MR. GOSSE: I just want to say, Andrew, that I do have lots of connections in Cape Breton. We do have a Youth Resource Association down there with youth in care and there are probably four or five youth centres there in Cape Breton right now. Bay St. Lawrence has a youth centre up there and Sydney Mines Community CARES with Dorothy Halliday, Family Place Resource Centre is in New Waterford with Angus Gillis and the Whitney Pier Youth Club, Mark Gardiner is the fellow who is replacing me at my centre. We do have a Youth Resource Association for youths to come. We usually have it every three months at the Coast Guard College in Cape Breton where we bring all the youths in and find out what we can do in Cape Breton to help make their lives a little bit better and what programs are needed, employment preparation programs for youths who are older and who are in care and those types of things.
Again, I would like to say I do support the program. I think it is very well done. I think there is a lot of hard work put into it by the youths and I do think that you can tell that the youths have ownership of this program and that makes a big difference. It's their program and once they take ownership of it, any time they do that, and I do find that working with youths, when they do that and the program is very successful because it is youth orientated and youth driven. Again, I say thank you very much today for coming in.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'm going to ask a couple of questions and then I'm going to see if anyone else who is here wants to make a comment. When I read through the newsletters and some of the evaluations, I heard some very powerful messages to the people who operate the non-government organizations that these young people come in touch with and also with the social work profession and others. I don't know whether perhaps Mr. MacFarlane wants to comment on this but I am just wondering, to date, has there been any impact on how Children's Aid operates or how social workers operate as a result of hearing so strongly what these young people are saying through the newsletter and the initiative?
MR. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, I certainly hope so. I think that these kids are special. They are all special and I think we all agree on that. What's really neat is to see them involved in participating in something like this because, of course, we see many more who are floundering and are not really finding a suitable vehicle for expressing their ideas. I think it is really good and healthy for those of us who work in the field, to get this kind of feedback from the kids. I hope that I speak for everyone when I say that I think we're secure enough to take the criticism. I think, in many cases, we agree with what the kids have to say, it's just that they're better at saying it than we are. They know. They know our failings, they know the limitations in our services, and I think they're doing a great job of making that known through the community. (Interruptions) I have some competition outside.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, we heard that. (Laughter)
MR. MACFARLANE: In the times that I've had an opportunity to speak, this is the first time that's ever happened. Anyway, I hope that answers your question.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: If you don't mind just staying there for a minute - I don't mean to put Children's Aid under the spotlight here but that just happens to be the sponsoring organization. For example, I heard the suggestion that because a lot of the youth in care are in school during the daytime, and that's the usual working hours of many of the staff of Children's Aid, I can see where that would not necessarily match up their need to meet with someone at the time that's convenient or possible for them. Do you know, has your management or board discussed changing your operation at all in terms of hours of availability? I understand funding is probably the biggest problem in terms of not having enough staff to deal with immediate response to the youth in care when they call.
MR. MACFARLANE: It isn't a 9-to-5 business, as you know. I think we try to be very flexible. The group that I supervise, for example, works exclusively with adolescents and their families, and that means being available late in the day and into the evening. It is a unionized work environment, so we have to ensure that those conditions are honoured as well. The problem I have supervising these people is, quite frankly, that they will go above and beyond their hours of work, to the point of exhausting themselves. A real issue from a supervisory point of view, for me and I think for others in this work, is ensuring that you kind of maintain morale and maintain the health and well-being of staff working with the kids, because they do work at night, they work on weekends. The bigger problem we have is helping them maintain balance, if that makes any sense.
We also should mention it is a 24-hour service. It goes back to an earlier point that this service is very crisis-oriented. We have emergency services 24 hours a day. There's always somebody available through the police, and that's true in every community in the province. It's just that this kind of vehicle is really necessary at times to hit us over the head, to let us know how young people really feel. The work is so crisis-oriented, I think many of the kids would tell you that they don't get a lot of time with their social worker. If that was the statement, I would have to agree because they're really too busy. It's sad to say, but at times they're too busy to take time to sit and listen when the time is needed. That's why coming at it through this vehicle is good. There are probably other things that we need to do, and we're certainly open to suggestion for improvement.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: If you don't mind staying there, actually the next question probably could be answered by both of you. I'm just wondering, is it in Mr. Safer's job responsibility to do the fundraising for the project, or is that part of the role of the sponsoring organization?
MR. MACFARLANE: I think it's his job. (Laughter) He does a lot of the heavy lifting. We have a foundation at Children's Aid, and they are certainly very supportive to the project, supportive in principle and also have provided some ongoing tangible support.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I notice that, yes.
MR. MACFARLANE: They do fundraising for a variety of reasons, as volunteers. They are volunteers. The project has been the beneficiary of some of their efforts. As one of the speakers mentioned earlier, proposal writing and fundraising, for a project like this which doesn't have sustainable funding, is labour intensive. I would have to give a lot of credit to Andrew for the time he takes to do that. Probably he wouldn't have mentioned earlier, but I can mention that he's donated, I think, well over 100 hours in the last round . . .
MR. SAFER: Over 200.
MR. MACFARLANE: Over 200, sorry.
MR. SAFER: But who's counting.
MR. MACFARLANE: Because it turned out to be much more involved than the time we had budgeted for. He's committed to the project, as you can tell. He has the skills to carry out this kind of endeavour, but most importantly he really cares about the kids. For him, this is a real labour of love, so he does go beyond. This isn't just a project to provide him with some income, he really is an amazing fellow. We're lucky to have him. I hope he will spend another 200 hours the next . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, it's pretty evident. (Interruptions) Part of the problem, and I'm just thinking you might want to take this message back to your board and management, is that, in a sense, when the project co-ordinator or manager is also the fundraiser for the project, you're in a sense asking to raise money for your own salary.
MR. MACFARLANE: I know.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: This raises a whole credibility problem with potential funders. So I'm just wondering if it might be a shared responsibility or look at another arrangement where perhaps the project could have its own little advisory committee and one of their main tasks might be to do the actual ask, using a lot of the information and enthusiasm coming from Mr. Safer. Coming from that field, I know it's a very awkward position to be in. This is such a worthwhile initiative that I think it deserves all the support it can get from both the sponsoring organization and the various partners.
MR. MACFARLANE: I couldn't agree more, and thank you for that comment. I hope I didn't mislead you, the agency is very much the sponsor. Any of the Andrew's ideas come forward to the agency, so the proposal is fielded by the agency.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oh, great. (Interruptions)
MR. MACFARLANE: Really, for the reason you mentioned. I really want to give him credit for a lot of the leg work that goes on. He brings his ideas to me, and it goes forward from there.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excellent. Thank you very much. Would anyone else like to comment?
MS. MICHELE MORRIS: I'm Michele Morris, and I'm a case aid worker for Family and Children's Services in Cumberland County. I haven't had a whole lot of involvement with the newsletter project, but I know the kids really well, who were involved. I've worked a lot with Rebecca and with one of the other three who were there the last day. They both spoke very highly of it, and I think Rebecca was right when she said it helped her come out of her shell. I've really seen her mature in this last year. She thinks that the newsletter has helped her, and I'm sure that was one of many things.
You asked one time why there was just three people at Cumberland County at the end when we started off with - you said, Andrew - nine, we're unique. I can drive from where I live to Halifax faster than I can drive from one end of my county to the other end. My base is in Amherst, I live in Parrsboro and I work in Amherst. Foster parents are all along the county. That might have been part of the problem. You're in Malagash, you have to drive the child to Amherst, that's at least an hour's drive. Parrsboro is 45 minutes. I don't think we have any foster homes in Advocate, which would be about an hour and a half drive.
It's really nice that Cumberland County has a program like Halifax has, because we kind of lose out on the really good stuff sometimes. So I just wanted to put a little plug in that it's important for Cumberland County as well as Halifax.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That's a very good point. Certainly, once you take an initiative like this outside an urban area or an urban core, then you run into that huge challenge of transportation. Yes, I'm glad you raised that.
MS. MORRIS: I really wouldn't want Cumberland County to lose out just because it is a challenge, it's still important. Our numbers might not be as high, but our kids still need it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So it might need to be even modified a bit, and perhaps instead of having it in one central place, either move around a bit or . . .
MS. MORRIS: Oh, I don't think you could do that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You don't?
MS. MORRIS: No.
MR. SAFER: I want to add, on that last point, from my experience with the numbers that dropped off there in Amherst, part of it was, I think, a scheduling thing. There was an anger management group that one of the youth who came to the first maybe one or two sessions and then we didn't see him again, he was involved with that and that was a priority. We would be mindful, as far as scheduling, to make sure that there weren't any overlaps like that. Also, there was quite a bit of movement among the youth from a group home out there to one in Halifax or from one out there to one in New Glasgow. Maybe there's as much here, but because of the numbers it doesn't show up the way it did there.
MS. MORRIS: Services would all be here, too. So even if a child might move from a foster home into a group home, it would still be the same area. In our area, if he moved into a group home, chances are he's outside of Cumberland County.
MR. SAFER: Yes, so that was definitely a factor.
MS. MORRIS: It's also nice to work with something that, like you said, lit the candle, lit the darkness, instead of running to put out a crisis. I drove one of the children up to the group, it was so nice to take them to something positive instead of taking them to court. It's a really positive experience for them.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for raising those issues. Rebecca.
MS. HERRETT: Speaking on behalf of the group members, the kids, this group, even though it was three, was a big help towards us because it was like a support group. We talked about what went on in our lives, and you can't do that with a social worker who hasn't gone through that. So it was an amazing feeling, and I'm sure it was with Halifax, that you have people you can talk to and this is an opportunity where we have that. It brings us all together to talk about that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacFarlane, did you want to say anything? Did you have any comments you wanted to make in addition to responding to questions or whatever?
MR. MACFARLANE: I would just like to thank you for having this group here today and particularly giving the kids, the young people, this opportunity. It's another experience for them that they haven't had before and probably many Nova Scotians have never had this opportunity. The more we can encourage them to do this kind of thing, I think the more we
will all understand what their needs are. The more we understand, the better we can do the job, I think. Thank you for listening, you have been a great group of people.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, it's been our pleasure and we've learned a lot.
MR. MACFARLANE: I think I speak for everyone here when I say we appreciate your time. I know you're busy. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Safer, did you want to close with any comments.
MR. SAFER: Last night was the first session for Halifax, and when Rebecca phoned on her cell phone, driving in yesterday afternoon, when I was doing something, and I'm sorry I didn't think to invite you last night. Anyway, it was the first meeting. At the end of it, what I asked them to do was to write down on a piece of paper why they came and what they would like to see happen as we go forward.
I would like to read - I'm not going to read their names because I didn't ask their permission for that, the ones who are not here - I thought you might be interested in hearing what they had to say: So people know what kids in care go through; to have fun; to meet people; to write stuff; and to have what I have to say heard; I came to this newsletter to meet new people, to express my feelings and thoughts through drawing and writing, to bring out to the people the issues of the system and how it can work better through our eyes. I also would like to learn how to express my feelings in many different ways and also learn how to work better with a group of people. I have to admit, also, because my social worker thought it would be a great way to get my artwork out there, for that is how I express my feelings, through drawing. Actually Brandon is here.
To make a good newsletter, and I like to meet new people. I am here tonight because I heard of this newsletter by Tina and thought that it was interesting, so I decided to join, also I thought that it would be a good hobby for me to stay out of trouble. And the last one, I want to do the newsletter because I feel that I can express my thoughts and show that I can talk to the society and to make a good newsletter and meet others and have fun.
So that's why they are involved. I don't think I have any other comments. We've already said everything, except to thank you, once again, for your interest. Obviously this is an important issue to you, and any way that we can work together to further our common goals, to improve the lives of youth in care and youth generally, would be wonderful. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Do any of the committee members want to say anything before we wrap up? Well, we want to thank you all for coming in this morning, especially those who travelled down from Cumberland County. It would be hard to summarize how impressed we are. You've heard the comments yourselves this morning. You are fantastic youth, and we know you have a great future in front of you. We wish you all the best. I want to congratulate Andrew for his vision and his dedication to this initiative, and also to the Children's Aid Society, it's very difficult to branch out and do outreach and start new programs and initiatives under the current financial situation that most of the voluntary and non-government organizations are in. I think it's to their credit that they have undertaken this. We wish you all the best. Thank you.
MR. MACKINNON: Motion to adjourn.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:48 a.m.]