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Organizations agree to work together on aboriginal social services

Two umbrella organizations are signing an agreement today to work more closely together to improve social services for aboriginal people living off-reserve.

The agreement between the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. and the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres is aimed at "increasing opportunities for cross-cultural understanding and improved access for off-reserve Aboriginal families needing community services and support."

"This is the culmination of a two-year relationship building process between two pretty senior umbrella organizations," said Paul Lacerte, the executive director of the BCAAFC. "There are some very real synergizing opportunities in front of us . . . The challenge for us is to make it real on the ground."

The BCAAFC represents 23 aboriginal friendship centres in the province, which provide a broad range of social services such as family support, counseling and employment readiness to people living off reserve.

The FCSSBC has more than 130 member agencies, also providing social services. Some of those agencies are aboriginal and many of them provide service to aboriginal people, said executive director Jennifer Charlesworth.

"We began talking about a year ago about our shared concern for kids," said Charlesworth. "We've been having heartfelt conversations." Those conversations led to today's agreement, she said. "Trust was strong enough that we could make a commitment. It took time to build that."

Both organizations rely heavily on government funding, mostly from the ministry of children and family development, said Lacerte. With dollars shrinking despite needs growing it makes sense to work well together, he said.

The agreement will hopefully lead to stronger referral relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal agencies, he said. It may also provide opportunities to involve aboriginal elders in the help people receive.

"There's tangible opportunities for us to turn this agreement into something that gives people permission to look at a different way of doing business and making sure we're maximizing the quality of services to aboriginal people," he said.

There's definitely much need, said Lacerte. "We're on the bottom of pretty much every social or economic indicator."

The signing ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening at the First Peoples House at the University of Victoria.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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