Alberta Supports and Children’s Services Closure to Walk in Clients
IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the AUMA advocate for the Government of Alberta to immediately resume walk in services for Alberta Supports and Children’s Services and include municipalities as part of a consultation process to better serve Albertans at the local level.
WHEREAS one of the main services of Alberta supports is to provide access to emergency social services;
WHEREAS Alberta Supports and Children Services have closed their doors to the public and moved to a centralized call center preventing vulnerable populations from accessing key services;
WHEREAS clients who are no longer able to access these services are now dependent upon municipal services that are unequipped to handle intervention related challenges;
WHEREAS the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted vulnerable populations more than any other group;
WHEREAS municipalities have evolved to ensure that critical services continue to be offered accessibly during the COVID-19 pandemic;
WHEREAS Municipal services such as FCSS, Community Services, Libraries, and Enforcement are overwhelmed with an increase of clients needing assistance in accessing services provided directly by the provincial government;
WHEREAS FCSS staff are being forced to engage in intervention services outside the scope of their provincial mandate, training, and funding; and
What services are offered by Alberta Supports?
Income support (welfare)
Emergency Financial Supports
Emergency supports for those fleeing abuse
Financial support to families with children with disabilities
Alberta Senior’s benefits. They can look up personal information that FCSS does not have access to.
Health benefit applications for low income families
Employment services (resume writing, job application)
Canada Revenue was there once a month to help with social insurance numbers, CPP, Old Age Security application and questions.
Reporting suspected abuse
Foster care support
Counselling for kids in care
Independent living supports for qualifying youth
When did the closure start?
The closures began in March 2020, during the first provincial COVID restrictions. Alberta Supports walk-in service did not resume in July 2021 with the opening of other provincial offices. In September 2021, Alberta Supports opened for 4 days. During this time, they were not accepting walk-in clientele. Clients that required Alberta Supports services needed to make an appointment via phone or online.
What is the direct impact to the clients of Alberta Supports?
Vulnerable populations often have minimal access to technology and have depended on the walk-in nature of Alberta Supports to address emergent needs. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta Supports closed their doors to walk in traffic allowing for services to be offered through a centralized call center or website. Many of the clients accessing the services provided by Alberta Supports/Children’s Services don’t have access to a phone or computer to begin this process. Additionally, individuals with capacity challenges, struggled to get through to an agent using the automated phone system.
The centralized call system also hindered local referrals to agencies that might be able to assist with issues outside of the scope of the provincial office. This came as a result of assessments made on a local level and the relationships that agencies like FCSS had with agents in the local offices.
Vulnerable populations have been frequenting other municipal agencies like FCSS in desperation for assistance that is unobtainable by the provincial office due to the change in intake process.
What is the direct impact to municipalities?
Municipalities have shouldered the burden associated with assisting these individuals that are unable to get assistance from the closed Alberta Supports offices. Municipalities have seen a rise in homelessness and crime. Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) offices are most heavily impacted and a separate section has been included to summarize their direct impact.
What steps have been taken since the closure?
In March 2021 the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta met with key stakeholders from Alberta Supports to discuss the future of support offerings from Alberta Supports. FCSSAA board members stressed the need for walk-in services and that a consistent approach would not meet the needs of the individuals accessing these services.
The Town of Westlock met with MLA Glen Van Dijken in August 2021 about the issue raising the concern and requesting the re-opening of the building.
In September 2021, Alberta Supports re-opened their doors to the public however services are by appointment only. Clients must still call to make an appointment prior to their visit. This model still creates the same barriers to vulnerable populations and this re-opening half measure does not resolve the concerns with Alberta Supports accessibility. Children’s Services has still not resumed in-person services.
Whilst there is a need to ensure the safety of front-line staff, masking, social distancing, and safety barriers have allowed for other municipal departments to continue to provide critical services to the public.
The Minister’s response to this resolution states that “in alignment with the guidance from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Alberta Supports Centres are temporarily suspending in-person services until further notice.” Albertans who are currently receiving benefits or services are directed to call their caseworker for assistance. For all other inquiries, Albertans can phone the Alberta Supports Contact Centre toll-free. The Minister also notes that all Family and Community Support Services offices “have been provided with a staff contact list to ensure Albertans approaching them for services and supports are able to contact a ministry staff member to have their needs assessed.”
With respect to Children’s Services offices, the Minister states that these offices have been operating under an appointment-only model, but “[c]lients in crisis or without appointments are accommodated, and the general public are responded to by phone or through a scheduled appointment. There has been no discernable impact to service delivery or responsiveness.” The Minister’s response does not address the request to consult with municipalities, nor does it give a date for office reopening. However, at ABMunis’ 2022 Spring Municipal Leaders’ Caucus, the Minister committed to re-opening Alberta Supports offices to walk-in traffic in early April.
The Alberta Municipalities (ABMunis) Board approved taking the following actions regarding the province’s response to the resolution on Alberta Supports and Children’s Services:
Categorize the responses as “intent not met – further action will be taken.”
Monitor Alberta Supports offices for re-opening in early April as recently committed to by the Minister of Community and Social Supports.
Make improved access and availability of critical social supports a key priority in ABMunis’ advocacy related to the upcoming provincial election.