The growing list of programs offered by Family and Children’s Services Niagara seems to be making a difference in the communities.
But running those programs has also stretched the agency’s resources.
“We did experience some staffing shortages,” said Anna Bozza, executive director for the organization which held its annual general meeting last week.
For instance, she said implementing a new “child protection information network” during the past year meant bringing in “a number of new workers, and we’re continuing to hire.”
She said the program implementation “has been quite an undertaking for the organization with regards to changing the whole system,” Bozza said.
“During that process we hired on a number of new frontline protection workers,” bringing total staff at the agency to about 421 at its three branch offices.
FACS also implemented a pilot project to train new staff by teaming new recruits up with veterans.
“It’s all about continuing to improve on some of the services we provide and enhance the skills,” she said.
“Just on the child protection side, we’re seeing nearly 8,600 kids per year in terms of calls that we get and need to go out to in the community.”
Meanwhile, the agency is working with nearly 5,000 families on an ongoing basis, “and if every one of those families has two or three children, that’s representative of a lot of kids in the community.”
That doesn’t include the hundreds or potentially thousands of families and individuals who are using the agency’s family counselling programs, early years programs and childcare centres.
But while meeting the demand in the community, the agency continues to run programs that make it standout among similar organizations across the province.
While child protection continues to be the organization’s core service, Bozza said FACS Niagara offers “a lot more” than that, such as family counselling, childcare and early years centres which makes the local agency unique.
Ann Godfrey, FACS development public relations director, said “the best way to help kids is to help their families and to ensure that parents and adults are feeling strong and healthy in all ways.”
“Obviously that helps them to be the best parents they can be,” she said.
Bozza said the bursary program for kids in transition is another program that has made a significant difference in the lives of the children the organization assists.
“Not all of our kids have the same opportunities that other kids have in the community, and that comes right down to helping them get through school, post-secondary education, training and skills,” she said. “That has been quite a success.
“It ensures that kids have a real support system around them if they’re wanting to go to (post-secondary) school.”
Some of the students also participate in a home-for-the-holidays program, giving them a place to go during the Christmas break.
She said it gives the students “a real sense of family.”
As a result, she said “we’ve had a major increase” in the number of children who are completing high school and moving on to post-secondary education.
However, Bozza said the agency needs the help of the community to continue its achievements.
Specifically, she said they need foster parents.
The agency currently has as many as 480 children in foster homes throughout the region, while an an additional 200-plus are staying with relatives.
“A big part of how we do the work we do and how we’re able to be successful is through participation and investment from the community,” Bozza said.
Foster parents, she added, “is an ongoing need here in Niagara, throughout the province and country.”
While some of the preventative initiatives FACS offers have helped reduce the need for foster care, she said providing safe and stable homes for children remains a vital part of FACS programming.
“On the grand scale of things it’s been relatively easy to find (foster) homes for infants. That has changed. We find ourselves right now experiencing a shortage of homes for infants,” Bozza said.
“We just want to put a shoutout there to the community to say to people, ‘If you have ever considered fostering, if you would love to care for babies, we need you. They need you.”
More information about volunteering as foster parents is available on the FCS Niagara website, http://www.facsniagara.on.ca/en/.
Source: St. Catharines Standard