A Walk-in to Wellness

Individuals seeking mental health services in Ontario have learned to endure long wait times. But thanks to Family Service Toronto’s Wednesday Walk-In, counselling is available immediately for adults seeking therapy on the spot.

“We offer single-session counselling, which is a very specific intervention,” says Zaria Duncan, who joined FST in June 2016 as Manager of Counselling Services and Families in Transition program. “We do anything we can to help the client in a single session, so it tends to be more solution-focused and practical. We look for one or two concrete things to pass on that can be useful to them.”

FST counsellors Oona Fraser, Claudia Venegas and Alena Smith lead the walk-in program, providing exemplary administrative and clinical support. “On average, we are able to see 12 clients, but it’s been as many as 23 in one evening,” says Zaria.

“Clients come from all walks of life, from across Ontario, and often exhibit high levels of emotional distress. Our sessions have addressed depression, anxiety, phobias, suicidal ideation, abuse and complex trauma histories.”

The Walk-In marked its four year in 2016-17 with an evolving mix of clientele.  Couples seeking therapy represented 20 per cent of attendees and a growing number of male and newcomer clients also contributed to the program’s diversity.

Zaria praises the team of volunteer therapists and students who make the program possible. “It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and empathy to counsel clients from diverse backgrounds with varied mental health concerns,” she says.

Of the Walk-In’s success, Zaria simply notes, “It meets a need. Even though it is limited in what it can offer, people need someone to talk to and we are here to help.” Looking forward, she hopes to increase staffing and expand to a full-day program or two evenings per week.

Photo: Walk-In staff from top, Claudia Venegas, Alena Smith, Manager Zaria Duncan and Oona Fraser.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne joins Campaign 2000 National Co-ordinator Anita Khanna, left, and Ontario Co-ordinator Jessica Mustachi on Budget Day 2017

Families welcome new child benefit

Most Canadian families with children had an extra reason to celebrate Canada Day in 2016 as they awaited their newly-redesigned and enhanced Canada Child Benefit (CCB) in July, thanks in part to anti-poverty advocacy work conducted at FST.

The new CCB –  a more generous, tax-delivered and progressive benefit – was described as a “historic step forward in the battle against child poverty” by Campaign 2000 (C2000), a non-partisan coalition of 120 groups and individuals co-ordinated by Family Service Toronto.

“For decades, our national network has been on the front lines of calling for action against poverty. The new CCB is a life-changer for millions of children and families and should be accessible to all children across Canada,” said Anita Khanna, FST’s Director of Social Action and Community Building (SACB) and C2000’s National Co-ordinator.

As early as 2012, C2000 published a proposal to reduce child poverty through improved child benefits, making them simpler to administer, more generous and better targeted towards families in low income. Improving child benefits for families was a cornerstone election issue in 2015, with all major parties adopting some elements of C2000’s recommendations.

C2000 is an important part of FST’s advocacy work to influence and shape social policy on poverty issues. It is regarded as a leading national social policy organization and an authority on child poverty in Canada, releasing annual national and provincial report cards on child and family poverty with its partners across the country.

Nearly one in five children in Canada live in poverty. Low income families struggle with food insecurity, precarious employment, discrimination and a lack of affordable, high quality housing and childcare. C2000 continued its efforts into 2017 to encourage government to build on the CCB’s firm foundation and take crucial next steps to make poverty history.

Through 2016 and into 2017, advocacy also extended into FST’s community work through its SACB unit. It continued critical work in Lawrence Heights – a north-west community of ethnic and linguistic diversity. FST supported residents to speak out and act on their priorities through its role in a network of emerging groups and service providers.  With major revitalization underway in the community, FST stood side by side with residents and partner agencies building inclusive futures for all.

IWS Manager Paul Gardiner with staff from left Natasha Bachoo, Eunisse Bienvenue and Anricca Selvarajah.

Commercial unit builds for success in 2016-17

“Your team treats our union members like real people.”

That’s just one of many positive comments Integrated Workplace Solutions (IWS) received from customers during their first year as a stand-alone commercial unit following the 2015 wind-down of FST’s social enterprise known as FSEAP (Family Services Employee Assistance Programs).

The four-person IWS team carried on and continued to build their portfolio into 2016-17 by providing a range of services to employers managing workers struggling with substance abuse. Customers include the Toronto Transit Commission, Loblaws and DriverCheck.

IWS Manager Paul Gardiner explains FST’s roots in the union movement and long commitment to social justice uniquely position IWS – both as a supplier meeting employers’ needs for due diligence when dealing with troubled employees while also standing in solidarity with such workers.

“We’re not into flashy marketing campaigns like our big competitors,” says Paul. “We simply tell employers we can provide truly independent, quality substance abuse assessments that benefit the employer and the employee.”

“We’re nimble, independent and offer national reach.”

That’s been key to making IWS’s first year successful as a stand-alone operation.

Strong customer retention, new clinical affiliates across Canada and innovative product development point to a bright future for IWS. Profits generated are pumped back into the FST budget to finance mental health services and other programs.

A 2016-17 highlight included participation with the TTC legal team to support its bid to introduce random drug testing among its 10,000 employees. The bid was successful.

IWS specializes in providing substance abuse assessment services to employers across Canada. Such assessments are necessary when employers need to meet their own policy requirements, human rights codes, and the legal obligation to accommodate mental health disabilities in the workforce.

Other services include training for managers to help them recognize staff behaviours that suggest substance abuse and a 100-week support program for recovering employees.

Online initiative leads to Passport efficiencies

It’s been 10 years since Family Service Toronto began administering Ontario’s Passport program which helps adults with a developmental disability to participate in their communities and give caregivers a break.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) allocates funds to adults for such activities as community classes, recreational programs or hiring support workers. FST processes 40,000 invoices annually from more than 3,200 participants who are reimbursed for the services.

With the program’s growing success have come administrative challenges as well as solutions including a major online initiative in the fall of 2016 when FST rolled out ePOS, which allows participants to securely upload their invoices and receipts for processing and to check their funding balance.

“We already have 600 people registered,” says Anna Zhang, Operations Manager, Building Inclusive Communities. “Now 63 per cent are paid within one day and another 33 per cent are paid within two to five days. Individuals can get an email, text or automated voice message when funds are deposited into their account.”

FST’s Passport Advisory Committee provided input on making ePOS helpful and user friendly. Feedback on the resulting system has been positive and stands as another highlight in a decade of change and growth for Passport participants and their caregivers.

Photo: BIC Operations Manager Anna Zhang, left, and Venetta Tavernese, Manager of Passport and Person-Directed Planning Programs

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