Social and Welfare Services

There is a general division in Canada between SOCIAL SECURITY programs and social and welfare services. Social security programs, which are the responsibility of all levels of government, provide direct economic assistance in one form or another to individuals or families. Included in this category are programs such as FAMILY ALLOWANCES, OLD AGE PENSIONS and provincial and municipal social-assistance programs.

Social and welfare service programs, on the other hand, have been developed in an attempt to respond to personal, social and emotional needs. Included are the services for the residential care of people in government-run or private residences, care of people in their own homes, and a wide range of community-based services such as DAY CARE, home-delivered meals and counselling. These services are now often referred to as the "personal" social services and have been developed and expanded primarily during the latter half of the 20th century.

In the past, the family was expected to care for its members with assistance from the church, private charity and workplace associations when the family's own resources were insufficient. With industrialization, there was a shift in emphasis from farm labour to industrial labour. As manufacturing expanded, the cities attracted more wage earners, which resulted in congested living conditions and new social needs. The state responded initially by financing the expansion of private and church charities but then began to administer social and welfare services itself.

There are still many residential services provided for people in need, but in addition a great variety of noninstitutional social and welfare services have been developed. From the conclusion of WWII to the 1980s, the exponential growth of state-run services has shifted the primary responsibility for financing and administrating the direct provision of services to the 3 levels of government. In some provinces various private social-service organizations, funded in part by government and in part by United Way campaigns, also exist, as do a number of alternative services that function outside both government and established private organizations. Although state-run services remain an important care giver, the notion that informed sources of help such as the family and the church continue to be held by many to be more desirable, if somewhat unworkable, ideal.

Purpose and Range of Services

Social and welfare services are organized primarily around the populations they serve, eg, children and families, youth, the elderly, the physically handicapped and the developmentally handicapped. However, no matter what population they serve, these services exist for a number of different purposes. Some provide daily, 24-hour care; others support the family (particularly mothers, who are in most cases responsible for meeting the social and emotional needs of the family); others provide protection for those in jeopardy, eg, neglected or abused children. For children who may require temporary or permanent removal from their own family, a range of foster homes, group homes and residential services are provided. Included in the general child-welfare system are services for ADOPTION of children. For children with psychological problems, counselling services are available and MENTAL HEALTH centres for residential care have been established. A number of DAY CARE services have been established in each jurisdiction, primarily for preschool children. There are very few spaces for children of school age and for children with special needs; indeed, the availability of day-care spaces of any kind falls short of the actual need.

There are a number of smaller and in some cases more recent programs designed to support the family, including homemaker services, which provide help in the home; parent-education programs; and respite services that allow mothers a break from the daily demands of caring for young children. Family-planning programs across the country provide information and counselling to families. There are also a small number of alternative services for women, established at the initiation of local groups of women in the absence of state activity. The services include local women's centres which provide information, advice, counselling and referral; rape crisis centres; and a number of interval or transitional houses for battered women and their children.

To meet the needs of the elderly, residential homes, including large centres for long-term care and an expanding network of smaller community-based nursing homes, have been established. In some areas community-based services for the elderly include drop-in centres, home-delivered meal services and homemaker services.

A network of services has been developed for the physically and mentally handicapped (see DISABILITIES), including large-scale institutions and smaller, community-based residential services such as foster homes and group homes. Some jurisdictions have established sheltered workshops to provide training to facilitate the integration of the handicapped person into the community. Local associations for the mentally retarded, which advocate on behalf of the developmentally handicapped and also provide some services in their local communities, have been founded in many parts of Canada. Services for the mentally ill have been set up outside the general health system (see PSYCHIATRY). In some areas there are community-based rehabilitation programs that help the mentally ill who have been institutionalized to integrate themselves back into the community; in others, emergency housing facilities and drop-in services are provided to assist people recently released from hospital.

Jurisdiction

Under the Canadian CONSTITUTION, the responsibility for social and welfare services rests with the provincial and territorial governments. The services are operated primarily under provincial and territorial legislation. Each province and territory has established its own variety of services. Some provinces delegate partial responsibility for the administration of social and welfare services to the local or municipal level of government, and in some instances the municipal governments also contribute to the financing of some of these services.

The federal government, through its cost-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories, is also involved in social and welfare services. Initially through the federal Canada Assistance Plan the cost for many services was split on a 50-50 basis with the provinces. However in 1990 the federal government imposed spending limits on the 3 richest provinces, Ontario, BC and Alberta, effectively forcing the provinces to increase their share of social funding to as much as 70 percent. Many critics argue if the present trend continues CAP funding will be eliminated early in the 21st century. With the imposition of severe budget cuts by all levels of government and the general belief that private social services may be a more effective and efficient method of delivering social services, there is much doubt and debate about the utility of public social welfare services (see WELFARE STATE).

In place of the sharing formula developed under the CAP are block funding arrangements whereby the federal government issues tax points to provincial governments, thereby removing itself from social welfare services. The federal government merely ensures that all provinces and territories provide assistance to those "in need," that each jurisdiction has a procedure in place to appeal the decision of welfare officials and that all provinces and territories not have a residency requirement as a condition of eligibility. Yet despite the devolution of social services by the federal government some provincial governments are reluctant to agree with even a minimalist involvement of the federal government.

A small percentage of social and welfare services are under the jurisdiction of private or church organizations. In many cases these organizations receive some financing from the government bodies and the remainder is solicited through private donations, including the annual campaigns of United Way appeals. In some jurisdictions the private agencies have essentially been taken over by the government; in others these agencies (essentially semipublic organizations) have been maintained, although they operate primarily on government funding and frequently under the mandates legislated by the provincial government.

Regional Variation

Since the 1960s most jurisdictions in Canada have reviewed their pattern of social services. For example, Alberta initiated a preventive social service program in 1966; Québec launched an inquiry into health and social welfare services in 1966; Manitoba began some integration of health and welfare services in 1968; NB established a task force on social development in 1970; BC began a review of social services in 1972; and Ontario established a task force on social services in 1979. In most provinces these developments have resulted in an increase in the control of the provincial government over social and welfare services. Québec is the only province which integrates health and welfare services; all others maintain separate health and welfare services in different ministries. Generally the reorganization has bypassed the local level of government.

Over this period some provinces, eg, Québec and BC, have assumed wide control over private agencies, while others, eg, Ontario, have continued to support some private agencies. Most of the jurisdictions have established some form of decentralization of responsibility for the actual administration of services, while maintaining central government control of policy and financing. Québec, for example, has established regional bodies, community-service centres, and local neighbourhood organizations called "local community service centres."

Alberta and Québec have both established regional offices and in some cases local area offices for their provincial social and welfare services. Newfoundland's regionalized services reflect its geography and the number of isolated communities. The NEWFOUNDLAND RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM of the early 1960s, however, disrupted family and community life by forcing the closure of small industries in an attempt to centralize economic activity. This resulted in a shift of population to the larger centres and a concentration of social and welfare services.

The provision of social and welfare services for native people is complicated by a debate over jurisdiction (see NATIVE PEOPLE, HEALTH). The federal government has overall responsibility for native people and their lands under the Constitution Act of 1867 in general, and under the Indian Act in particular. Certain services, such as CHILD WELFARE, have been delegated to the provincial governments, but not all provinces have willingly assumed this responsibility. In other areas of social and welfare services, it is not clear who is responsible. Native organizations, eg, band councils, have sometimes taken on responsibility for the actual administration of child-welfare services. Increasingly, native people are demanding more direct control over the development and administration of their social and welfare services. It appears fairly certain that the native social services provision will be a reality by the turn of the millennium.

Recent Developments

One of the most important developments affecting social and welfare services is the general cutback in state expenditure on these services by the federal and provincial governments. For welfare recipients, this has exacerbated the problem of the erosion of real purchasing power which they have suffered since about 1975 and which worsened in the economic recession of the early 1980s and the downturn of the 1990s.

In addition to curtailing any needed expansion and actually cutting back on the amount of money spent on social services, a number of additional strategies have been developed. The first is de-institutionalization, which involves both the removal of people from institutions and the prevention of institutionalization in the first place. This is resulting in the closing of some large institutions across the country, eg, institutions for the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, and children.

Related to this is the second strategy of community care, ie, an emphasis on caring for people in their own community and, in many cases, in their own family. Part of this strategy is focused on receiving people back into the community from institutional settings; part is focused on trying to provide some services in the community so that people will not have to be institutionalized. It appears that considerable emphasis in this strategy is on having women take care of children, handicapped persons and old people in their own homes. At present serious problems exist as a result of a lack of adequate community facilities and services in response to the de-institutionalization of a great many people across the country.

A third strategy of transferring the responsibility for the administration of social services to the private sector has been more pronounced in some parts of the country than others - eg, Alberta. The social welfare services that have evolved since the 1960s are often described as a social safety net.

Much confusion and debate surrounds the issue of how to best deliver social services through a universal public service or a private service in consort with government supplementation. With approximately 9% (2.6 million) of the population of the country receiving social welfare services in 1998, the need is evident and significant. The age-old Canadian question of whether social welfare services should be a federal or provincial responsibility seems to have evolved into whether Canadians in need of social services can best be served by private or public institutions, and whether the federal government has anything but a perfunctory role to play in social service provision.