Alberta Supports and Children’s Services Closure to Walk in Clients

Subject Social
Year 2021
Status Adopted - Active
Sponsor - Mover Westlock County
Active Clauses

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 Clauses

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

Resolution Background

What services are offered by Alberta Supports?
•    Income support (welfare)
•    Emergency Financial Supports
•    Emergency supports for those fleeing abuse
•    AISH
•    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.
•    Children’s services
o    Reporting suspected abuse
o    Family/supervised visits
o    Foster care support
o    Adoption support
o    Counselling for kids in care
o    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.
Alberta Supports Impact to FCSS

The Town of Westlock has worked with the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta to collect data about the FCSS impact across the province. Three questions were sent out to various programs across the province. The data has been summarized below and includes a variety of programs from small towns to big cities. 

  1. Has the Alberta Support closure impacted your local FCSS

The answer to this question is predominantly yes. Some of the common reasons we see local programs impacted are:

  • A higher intake of clientele that are in crisis
  • A rise in homelessness
  • Dedicating staff at the expense of other programming to walk-in Alberta Supports clients

Several programs stated they weren’t impacted as their programs are limited to administering funding only Still, they indicated that the programs they funded were likely impacted. Two programs responded that they were already doing intake through an Alberta Supports partnership and were already being funded to help with career services outside of their FCSS mandated programming.

One program responded that when Alberta Supports was open for walk-in only, they were often overwhelmed by walk-in traffic. Opening up to phone and online assessments has increased privacy and the number of clients that can be assisted by the program. They saw the change as positive.

  1. What resources have been spent in attempting to assist Alberta Support clients (Money, time etc.)

71% of programs responded that they had committed additional time and resources to assisting Alberta Supports clients. Some programs allocated the time to a dedicated individual within the organization or a summer student. In some programs, the director was assisting walk in clients.

Outside of staff wages, many programs used office supplies, phone lines, and fax lines to support clientele. Some organizations responded that they had provided food cards to those in crisis. One program estimated that the closure was resulting in a cost of $2,000.00/week to their local FCSS.

  1. Can you provide anecdotal examples of situations where you have needed to intervene to support Alberta Supports Clients?

Countless examples were provided by respondents to the questions. The example provided illustrated a few recurring scenarios:

  • Clients did not have cell phones or computers to make calls or fill the forms online. FCSS staff assisted them in navigating the phone process. In multiple examples, FCSS staff had to commit to multiple appointments with the clients due to the inability to reach someone through the call centre.
  • Clients do not have the capacity to navigate complicated phone menus or online forms. Many of them don’t have online banking to be able to print bank statements or submit financial documents.
  • Clients with disabilities are unable to hear the agents via phone.
  • Clients are looking for career assistance services like resume building/printing.
AUMA Notes

AUMA does not currently have a position on this issue. If this resolution is passed, it would be forwarded to the Government of Alberta for response and further advocacy would be recommended to AUMA’s Board by AUMA’s Safe and Healthy Communities Committee within the context of related priorities and positions.