Innovative strategy for at-risk and Indigenous youth in Vancouver gains momentum

Chris Tait contributes his successful transition out of foster care to one key factor, a wide circle of professional and personal support.

Community groups working together with a ‘reconciliation lens’

24-year-old Chris Tait successfully aged out of foster care and is now an advocate for improved services for at-risk and Indigenous youth. (Trevor Jang)

Chris Tait credits his successful transition out of foster care to one key factor: a wide circle of professional and personal support. 

"I always had at least 10 to 20 people supporting me at all times," he said. 

The 24-year-old First Nations man is now an advocate for an innovative strategy aimed at providing such a circle to at-risk and Indigenous youth and vulnerable families in Vancouver's inner city. 

On Friday Tait spoke to more than 100 front line workers, service providers and government representatives gathered at the Hastings Community Centre for the Youth Matters Forum.

The groups have been meeting at the quarterly forum for the past four years, developing the 'Our Place' model of service delivery. 

The model is place-based, which means programs and services are holistic in nature and tailored to meet the unique needs of the neighbourhoods being served.

"The reason why I got involved is because I saw they were looking for a solution. We weren't just pointing fingers at the government," said Tait.

The Our Place model was endorsed by the City of Vancouver in September 2015 and has the support of several civic, provincial and federal bodies including the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth and First Nations Health Council.

Collective impact

The coalition of community groups began developing the model in September 2012 after youth workers and Vancouver Police narrowly averted a suicide pack of 24 mainly Indigenous youth aged 13 to 15.

The first Youth Matters Forum was held shortly after at the Ray-Cam Community Centre with the goal of having a 'collective impact.'

The Reconciliation in Action event happens four times per year at various Vancouver community centres, promoting inclusion and Indigenous culture. (Trevor Jang)

"What people have is a common vision and everybody is putting in resources towards that common vision," said Carol Brown, a former coordinator at Ray-Cam.

"There's a lot of service providers in the community but they often don't work together. So part of collective impact was to bring those people together and have them work differently, with the residents being part of that process. So having some accountability back to the people who need to use the services they are providing," she said.

One example of a Our Place model program is the 'Powerful Parents' group, which offers peer parenting support at a social housing complex. The program operates 24 hours per day, enhancing the capacity of low-income parents to manage significant stresses without the need for intervention by child welfare authorities.

Tait points out that 60 per cent of youth-in-care in B.C. are Indigenous. He says one of the main goals of collective impact is keeping families together.

"We are looking to create more opportunities for young people, specifically in foster care. We're also trying to prevent youth homelessness."

Reconciliation in action

The forum was immediately followed by a fun community event called 'Reconciliation in Action.' Close to 200 community members heard from keynote speakers, witnessed Indigenous cultural performers and engaged with service providers.

Scott Clark, executive director of the Alive Society, says the Our Place strategy is a collective of agencies working on innovative ways of meeting the needs of Vancouver’s vulnerable youth and families. (Trevor Jang)

"It's not just about all that really dry government work we're trying to do. But it's also that Reconciliation in Action event that follows where we start to celebrate working together," said Scott Clark, executive director of the Alive Society, one of the original organizations behind the development of the Our Place model. 

Clark says a key part of their progress over the past four years has been making community centres more inclusive of Indigenous peoples. 

"That culture is starting to shift and we embed that in a reconciliation lens. As urban Indigenous peoples, we should be reflected in all of the communities in Vancouver. And that's what we're starting to do."

Close to 200 community members gathered at the Hastings Community Centre in East Vancouver Friday for the Reconciliation in Action event. (Trevor Jang)