On May 24, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) co-hosted a conference which focused on the Future of Ethno-Specific Services in Ontario. Held at Toronto’s Park Hyatt, the conference explored the challenges of providing culturally appropriate services in difficult economic times.
The conference brought together social service practitioners from a number of communities to discuss ways of advocating for the continuation of ethno-specific services as well as an opportunity to share and learn from each other’s practices. It was clear from the beginning of the conference that the practitioners strongly believed that the ability of service providers to understand the background of their clients is not simply a matter of customer relations; it is a critical part of the service delivery mechanism.
Rabbi Ronald Weiss, Director of Chaplaincy Services at Jewish Family and Child, opened the conference by addressing the value of ethno-specific services. He explained how it is natural for individuals to feel more comfortable in seeking services or aid from those whom they share a common background, religion or ethnicity.
The conference transitioned into a panel discussion representing four distinct social service agencies. The focus was on Baldev Mutta, CEO of Punjabi Community Health Services, Birgitte Robertson, Executive Director of Momiji Health Care Society, Rochelle Goldman-Brown, Executive Director of Chai Tikvah and Mila Voihanski, Executive Director of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services Canada (JIAS). Though each of the 4 agencies focus on different needs of various communities in Ontario, they share the sentiment that ethno-specific services are essential in safeguarding vulnerable individuals’ identity, culture and heritage
A second panel discussed the impact of federal and provincial budgets on social service agencies. Presentations were given by John Matheson, Principal at StrategyCorp Inc., Dan Mader, Senior Consultant at StrategyCorp Inc. and Stephen Adler, Associate Director of Ontario Government Relations at The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Each speaker described and examined the major fiscal restraints that the Canadian government faces, while highlighting the especially difficult budgetary challenges in Ontario.
Keynote speaker, Eric Hoskins, Minister of Children and Youth Services, offered fresh motivation to the attendees, encouraging them to continue working tirelessly and passionately to service their respective communities. As the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and co-founder of War Child Canada, Hoskins addressed the crowd with experience and encouragement to continue attending to Ontario’s eminent multiculturalism and diversity.
Ending the day with cross-sectoral and cross-community roundtable groups, agency representatives had the opportunity to confer with fellow social service practitioners about the morning’s presentations, while also sharing their best practices and procedures with one another.
The final session was facilitated by Morris Zbar, Social Policy Subcommittee Co-Chair for the Toronto Local Partnership Council. The session developed concrete and tangible initiatives and programs for the organizations to undertake in a collaborative manner, that would be of measurable benefit to each community, in the context of an economic period of austerity. The importance of developing matrices by which to quantitatively evaluate the value of the services provided by the agencies, the development of an umbrella coalition or association, as well as the creation of a common communication strategy were among the numerous ideas developed by participants in the room.
Several follow-up initiatives are already being planned. As these projects go forward, CIJA will continue to play an important role as a facilitator of discussions on important public policy matters that impact the lives of all communities in Canada.