COCHRANE— Cochrane Family and Community Support Services has served as a safety net for those in need of housing, food security, parental education and more, for more than 30 years, and the need for continued social support in Town has only been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve tried to come up with two words that explain exactly what we do. They’re very simple but they’re powerful— ‘We help,’” said Cochrane Family and Community Support Services manager Kim Krawec said. “We’re here to help individuals and families, we help children, youth, adults and seniors, we help newcomers with settlement, we help ensure people are able to meet their basic needs— We’re here for everyone.”
Krawec was on hand at the Jan. 11 Cochrane Council meeting to share how 2020 has impacted the organization.
Cochrane Family and Community Support Services experienced a challenging year due to staffing losses, funding decreases, program cancellations and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020 the organization lost just under $700,000 in provincial, municipal and other forms of funding, leading to the elimination of seven programs and impacted 12 positions within the organization.
“These funding cuts have had a significant impact on our area. The loss of staff resources and valuable programs occurred at a time where the social demands and needs of the community were just increasing as a result of the pandemic,” Krawec said. “Even though Cochrane is truly an amazing community we’re not immune to social issues— The needs that we typically see have been amplified as a result of COVID-19. The number of people reaching out for help is on the rise, as is the complexity of the issues they are facing.”
Changes to funding began in November 2019 when the province announced it would be reworking the funding model for support services and would no longer fund the Resource Centre, the Parent Link Centre or the home visitation program. In December, funding was lost for the Older Resource Worker at Cochrane Family and Community Support Services. The centres officially closed on March 31.
On March 10, the organization was awarded a contract for the Family Resource Network. The announcement was exciting, Krawec said, but noted the funding was about $270,000 less than what they previously received from the province.
The Family Resource Network officially opened its doors to the public in October.
Support Services were put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Alberta on March 13. At the time Krawec and her team began meeting with the Cochrane Emergency Coordination Centre as they lead emergency social services.
By March 23 all staff began working remotely and an emergency support structure was established to ensure staff could continue to support the community and provide essential services to those in need.
The Cochrane Social Recovery Task Force launched in May 2020 and has been led by Krawec. At the same time, the province also requested information from Cochrane Family and Community Support Services regarding COVID recovery.
The Social Recovery Task Force has released two public-engagement survey to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the community. The survey will help guide the programs and supports offered to the community.
Krawec said the team continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and is working on strategic planning priorities given the funding changes it has experienced. This future of the organization will largely be determined by the provincial budget when it is released.
“Our resources, they’re not as big as they used to be, so we really need to focus in, and figure out what are the needs and what are the services necessary,” Krawec said.
The team remains committed to engaging with the community and using creative solutions to create meaningful community connections while helping Cochrane’s most vulnerable residents, Krawec said.
“In times of crisis our team always rises— 2020 has shown how strong and how resilient and how innovative our team is,” Krawec said. “In spite of all the adversity that our team has faced every single person continues to show up for work every day with a passion for making a difference, a positive outlook and a dedication for helping others.”
Councillor Tara McFadden called Cochrane Family and Community Support Services a critical resource in the community that plays an essential role in supporting a growing community in a time of great adversity. She noted the organization has been critical in helping vulnerable members of the community.
McFadden said the challenge lies in telling the story of Support Services and the role it helps in providing those in need a hand up during difficult times.
“There can’t be another dime lost from your department,” McFadden said. “We need to find ways to support it— It’s unfortunate the Social Recovery Task Force has become not just about how do we recover from COVID, but how do we recover from a gutted department.”
Coun. Marni Fedeyko thanked Cochrane Family and Community Services for its continued hard work to support the community, while rising to the challenges they have faced.
She called on Council to work to ensure Support Services does not lose more funding given the critical place they hold in the community.
“It is about helping the entire community,” Fedeyko said. “We can’t lose any more funding to this area right now, because honestly as we move through the rest of the pandemic mental health for adults, seniors, kids, we need to be advocating strong.”