Kelowna At-Risk Comprehensive Program

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About the program

Our At-Risk Comprehensive Support program is our most utilized program for low income mamas, expecting mamas and their families. This program provides 1-1 support with a social worker and our Karma Market coordinator to help mamas overcome the impact of poverty on their lives and on the lives of their children. The At-Risk Comprehensive program identifies barriers and provides resources and immediate supports to low income and struggling mamas, papas and caregivers to access basic needs to provide a healthy and safe living environment for their children. Issues we commonly support surround Mamas and families facing homelessness, abuse and violence, lack of basic resources including food, clothing, shoes, medical interventions not covered by MSP and access to menstrual/hygiene products. The program also helps facilitate resource navigation, addresses current gaps to prevent further poverty, provides access to supplementary diapers, wipes, and required baby items such as cribs, highchairs, and infant car seats. The at-risk program also refers internally to our mental health counselling and groups. For especially complex cases, we refer to internal support programs as appropriate including the Family Court Support Program, helping families navigate the court system and providing family based victim service support.

Program Details

The At-Risk Comprehensive program has been in operation since September 2016. We experienced exponential growth annually and in 2019 supported over 6000 families with 4682 of these mamas participating in the At-Risk Comprehensive program. In 2020 we have supported 7605 at risk caregivers through direct and COVID-19 safe no-contact support means. Participants may be referred by Interior Health, Elizabeth Fry Society, The Women’s Shelter, the Ministry of Child and Family Development, School District 23, or partnered non-profit organizations. Clients can also self refer. This program provides access to a registered social worker for resource navigation and access to the free Karma market for all items required. In house referrals are provided for those with greater needs and other community-based programs and supports are accessed as appropriate. Appointments can be made after hours for individuals or families who are not able to attend during regular working hours or a no contact hamper delivery can be arranged. The scope of this program continues to expand based on the increased complexity of the mamas and families that are presenting to us. We have added a fill the gap dental program to the at-risk services, supporting families with financial support to relieve dental pain and infection, a court support program to help mamas involved with the justice system or MCFD, as well as a fill the gap hearing program to support families experiencing poverty as a result of meeting the financial burden of their child’s audiology needs.

Family Court Support Worker

The addition of a Family Court Support Worker for the Mamas for Mamas At Risk program will fill the justice gap for low income families, mothers experiencing domestic violence, and those experiencing and concurrent sexual assault by providing legal advocacy. These individuals are typically left waiting for legal aid to assist them and/or do not meet the system requirements. The complexity of issues that these mamas face are multifaceted and sometimes devastating, leading to separation between mother and child, staying in abusive relationships or not having the ability to safely remove oneself from domestic violence and sexually abusive relationships. The client’s situation only amplifies, and the mama and children continue to suffer while they wait. Many of these issues are related to lack of legal advocacy and increasing the availability of these resources may assist in transitioning these individuals out of unsafe relationships sooner.

Program Details

What issue the program addresses:

 At Mamas for Mamas we address issues around food insecurity and basic human requirements, homelessness, mental health challenges, child welfare concerns and any other barriers that prevent these families from ending the cycle of poverty and related trauma. We have connected with over 23,000 families in the Okanagan region and the number is steadily growing. As such, we have observed an increase in a quiet desperation behind so many of these Mamas’ struggles to provide for their families. Many of these mamas reach out to us to fulfill basic needs for their families, however upon intake we become aware of additional layers of struggle, typically connected to intimate partner violence and domestic abuse. These mamas are scared and desperate and require so much more than basic needs of clothing and food, they require court support and legal advocacy to assist them in protecting themselves and their children from an impossibly dangerous situation. The addition of a Family Court Support worker within the At-Risk-Comprehensive program will: – Address and fill the ‘justice gap’ in legal service support. For example, when clients are denied legal aid, they will be able access this court support service. – Provide legal advice, support and guidance for the ‘at risk’ families currently associated with Mamas for Mamas. – Provide increased accessibility and resource support in regard to custody issues, foster care, separation, and ministry child services. – Work with women and families to provide trauma informed coaching about the family court system.

 

Who does this program serve?

This project will support low-income families, mothers experiencing domestic violence, and those experiencing sexual assault. In the Central Okanagan we work closely with partners such as The Elizabeth Fry Society, Now Canada, The Kelowna Women’s Shelter, The Aboriginal Advocacy program (through School District 23), The Karis Society, The Metis Society, The Child Advocacy Centre, and Interior Health Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Maternity Ward. As a community, we have collectively found that our clients are falling through the system due to lack of legal and court support for low-income families facing domestic violence. We have found that Aboriginal, immigrant and refugee women have additional challenges with cultural barriers and limited hours of legal aid resources. Indigenous women have difficulty finding accurate information on their rights and options; although we work with the Friendship Society to assist with this, our clients often face complex issues and require more support. Internet resources are not useful to clients who, for the most part, do not have a computer or are not computer literate. Our clients have little or no access to family law information, specifically around family violence and its impact on custody and access. Women are generally not able to access legal aid unless there is reported violence in the relationship or risk to their children. This is not working for women who are not ready to disclose violence or who have challenges with literacy, mental, emotional and poverty issues among other things.

 

Project Objectives:

The Family Court Support program assists mamas that have participated in the At-Risk Comprehensive program and who require access to legal advice, provide support with court filings, assistance during court proceedings, and guidance during custody or separation proceedings. By taking a progressive approach to addressing these fundamental needs, these mamas and their kids can be removed from harmful situations and relationships they’re currently in by necessity, sparing their families additional harm due to lengthy waits within the court system. Our current court system can be daunting, especially for those who need to write an affidavit, file it and have the other party served. This program provides a holistic approach with a legal lens to address the concerns of many mamas that participate in our programs. It would open the doors for many families who may not be able to afford legal advice or services or who are not eligible for government funded legal aid. Many of the mamas that participate in our programs do not qualify for legal aid (depending on family size) as the income test is under $30,000 and a family of four is considered impoverished (according to Statistics Canada) if they have an annual after-tax income of $41,866 or less, including all money from government programs such as the federal child benefit payment (BC Child Poverty Report Card, 2016). Many individuals that participate in our programs are impoverished at the after-tax level but not below the income test level of $30,000. These mamas are faced with decisions on having to put a roof over the heads of their children or pay for legal support, making it an impossible decision to remove themselves from harmful situations. This program allows these mamas may realize an opportunity to remove themselves from harmful interpersonal violence and provide for a better life for themselves and their children.

In addition to the one-on-one services that our Family Court Support worker provides, we would like to expand to hold monthly classes for our mamas and families to provide them with information on the intricacies of the court system and the child protection system that may assist in guiding them through the system without total reliance on legal aid or services through Mamas for Mamas. This is part of our hand up, not a handout model. These sessions will assist in preparing clients and provide them with the information they require to advocate for themselves in our current system. It is hopeful that through this combination of support and information sessions that these mamas and their families will advance through legal proceedings at a faster rate than if they had relied only on the assistance of legal aid and possibly prevent children or partners from harmful situations. This resource is vital to the wellbeing of our Mamas and provide services that are desperately needed by these families. The Family Court Support worker provides a wrap around approach to addressing all of the needs of an at-risk mama or papa who walks through our door. In addition, providing preventative and supportive services to families involved with the court system is likely to reduce the overall pressure and financial burden on our current justice and family court system by expediting cases.

 

Key activities of this program:

The addition of a Family Court Support worker within the At-Risk Comprehensive program offered through Mamas for Mamas would provide the following key activities: – Accompany clients to court appearances – Support the writing of affidavits and no contact orders – Assist in navigating the legal system for clients involved in family court – Support clients who have involvement with the Ministry of Child and Family Development – Provide direct support for mamas required to navigate the legal aid process – Assist in overcoming obstacles when legal aid is not available – Offer one-on-one counseling sessions to mamas participating in the At-Risk Comprehensive program who require legal support – Provide monthly information sessions for mamas and their families offering information on our legal system and how to navigate the intricacies of this system It is anticipated that offering these above services within the At-Risk Comprehensive program at Mamas for Mamas will meet the goal of removing mamas and their families from unsafe situations faster, reducing needless harm experienced by them and their families due to delays in our current justice system. Currently the funding available for this position is minimal and we are only able to offer these services on a very limited basis. With additional funding these services could become a full-time position within the At-Risk Comprehensive program, assisting mamas involved in domestic violence and sexual assault relationships who require the assistance of a legal advocate to remove themselves from these impossible situations.

 

How is Mamas set to deal with these issues?

We address issues around food insecurity and basic human requirements, homelessness, mental health challenges, child welfare concerns and any other barriers that prevent these families from ending the cycle of poverty and related trauma. We have connected with over 14,000 families in the Okanagan region and the number is steadily growing. As a result, we have observed an increase in a quiet desperation behind so many of these Mamas’ struggles to provide for their families. Despite their best efforts, the cost of living is rapidly increasing, and these families are falling short and further behind. The scales continue to tip against the well being of the working poor. With additional funding we know we can continue to level the playing field to allow these families to live and love with dignity. “In 2016, there were 172,550 children and youth living in poor households with many living in deep poverty” (2018 BC Poverty Report Card). Further to this, “half of BC’s children in lone-parent families were poor, over four times the rate for their counterparts in couple families”and these are the families we support most often through our poverty relief programs. We believe we are relevant, and necessary for the community we serve and will continue to focus on the needs of our community. Our growth since we opened our doors in 2017 has been as follows: 2017 – We supported 1800 mamas and families 2018 – 4500 mamas and families 2019 – Approximately 5200 individuals, families and mothers will access the at risk comprehensive program. The Family Court Support worker currently working with Mamas for Mamas holds a degree in psychology, with post degree training in Human Trafficking through the Justice Institute of BC, Crisis Intervention designation through Lethbridge Community College, and experience working in City of Lethbridge Police as a victim service worker. In addition she has 4 years experience at Safe Society in Salmon Arm where she supported a high percentage of Aboriginal Women and children, experience as a facilitator of Children Who Witness Abuse, as well as a trainer for this program. We have qualified and experienced staff, incredible volunteers, many of these volunteers being mamas that have utilized our programs previously, and a supportive community that continues to applaud our growth and demonstrate their support through financial contributions. We envision a future where no Mama or child is left behind. We are committed to giving a hand up, not just a hand out to those struggling by providing them with essential needs. We are actively engaging with multiple levels of government and non-profit agencies; together we are working to change the systems that contribute to the vicious cycle of poverty, mental health issues, housing, and food insecurity and have recently expanded digitally across Canada with plans to expand nationally across Canada with additional services being offered to Mamas and their families.

 

What is the demonstrated need of our community?

It can be assumed that these at-risk families will benefit in numerous ways from a Family Court Support worker. Low and even middle-income families have trouble obtaining legal representation or otherwise accessing support though the family court system due to income tests that have been in place to determine qualification. Legal aid is only available if you qualify financially and only for certain matters “protection orders and child parenting time /responsibilities”. If you do not meet these qualifications families are left to struggle using duty counsel or the law line. If you are not familiar with the court system, it can be daunting to write an affidavit and know how to file it and have the other party served. It can be terrifying to have to represent yourself because families cannot afford the means to hire a lawyer if they don’t qualify for legal aid. Pair this with intimate partner violence or sexual assault and you have an impossible situation that is complex to navigate and safely remove yourself and/or children from. When we initially added the services of a Family Court Support worker (September 2019) we had extremely limited hours available to utilize for our mamas participating in the At-Risk Comprehensive program. During this very short time frame our Family Court Support worker has been able to assist 35 mamas, 20 of which have been supported through the family court system and 15 who have been involved with the Ministry of Child and Family development. This case load has been accomplished working a maximum of 10 hours per week in approximately 2 months. During this time our Family Court Support worker has been able to assist these participants in navigating the legal and ministry systems based on their particular situations. It has been reported through follow-up surveys and consultations that this assistance has improved the mamas feelings of safety and has provided an optimistic outlook on removal from sexually abusive relationships and intimate partner violence. This has provided for a more stable environment for the children and a better outcome for the mama experiencing the trauma. Furthermore, based on follow-up calls, with our family-based victim service worker, there appears to be reduced risk of re-victimization based on additional supports being put in place through this program.

 

Results:

When Mamas for Mamas opened their doors to provide in-house counselling in 2017 we quickly realized that many of the mamas and families we assisted were experiencing some form of trauma related to sexual assault or domestic violence. At this time we were unable to provide the services of a Family Court Support worker and were reliant on referrals to existing community resources. In 2019 we had the opportunity to add the role of a Family Court Support Worker utilizing limited funding received through a successful grant offered by the Central Okanagan Foundation. These services commenced in September 2019 and in this very short period of time has been able to support over 35 cases on very limited hours. It is expected that by increasing this position to a full time advocate that these services will increase resulting in a decrease in separation between families and unsafe situations experienced by mamas due to lengthy delays within the legal system. To demonstrate these results we will conduct a formative and summative evaluation of the services provided by the Family Court Support worker. We will measure the current needs of our clients in regards to legal services and evaluate the effectiveness of the legal representative during proceedings and advice of our clients. The survey process will be conducted as follows: Clients accessing the At Risk Comprehensive program will complete the intake form. On this form a question has been included that asks the mama if they would like to or would benefit from a legal advocate. The Family Court Support worker then provides a consult to those indicating need and it is determined what services may be required. These services are tracked and quantitatively measured providing an understanding of the need for these services for mamas participating the At-Risk Comprehensive program. When a client is actually undergoing legal direction or assistance from our representative, we will conduct a formative evaluation during the process to measure the practical, emotional and tactile effectiveness of the legal advocate role via qualitative survey. An annual summative evaluation will demonstrate how the role of a legal advocate has enhanced the experiences of our clients as well as provide us with valuable information about our programs needs.

 

Reporting on the program:

All clients complete an intake survey form prior to meeting with a clinical counselor. This intake form is then updated by the counselor based on the actual services required and delivered. These services and all subsequent services required to support the mama and her family are tracked in our online database. This information is periodically analyzed to ensure budgeted funds are allocated appropriately and if other services are indicated, but not offered, a budgeting plan is proposed to assist in the delivery of these services. Earlier this year we found the need for a Family Court Support Worker overwhelming and determined that funding should be sought to support additional hours for this position to assist our mamas and their families in navigating the court system. All funding for our programs is based on donations from our community, fundraising efforts and grants applied for and received. These funds are accounted for using a deferral method of accounting within our QuickBooks Online system which encompasses sophisticated capabilities for tracking all programs and various funding sources. Restricted contributions, grants and fundraising are recognized as revenue in the year in which the related expenditures are incurred. Unrestricted contributions, grant and fundraising are recognized as revenue when received or receivable if the amount to be received can be reasonably estimated and collection is reasonably assured. Monthly and annual expenses are reported to the Board of Directors and signed off annually. Utilizing this method we are able to oversee expenses associated within each program and ensure funds are adequately available to cover costs associated within a program.

Contact Vendela our Family Court Support Work for any questions!


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