Welfare programs working

TheObserver.ca – article
June 28, 2010.   PAUL MORDEN, The Observer

A pair of homegrown programs are helping people get off welfare.

Focus, a six-week program created in 2004 by Sarnia-Lambton’s Ontario Works office and recognized by the province as a “best practice,” is being adopted by other communities, according to a recent report to Lambton County council.

Some 181 people have graduated from Focus so far, and after two years 68% have left social assistance for jobs, school, training or other reasons, the report states.
“I think the statistics reflect that it’s definitely a powerful tool to move people forward,” said Jean Dalziel, manager of Lambton’s Ontario Works office.

The province pays the bulk of the cost of Ontario Works social assistance system but the county also pays a portion and it’s social services division delivers the program locally.

Dalziel said division staff knew they could be doing more for clients who faced barriers getting off assistance.

Gayle Montgomery, a member of the department’s staff, championed the approach based on the academic work of author Ruby Payne, Dalziel said.

“We’re tying to provide all the human services we can to help move people to the goals they have in being able to be self-sufficient,” Dalziel said.

“We want to do all we can to help the whole situation and not just hand out a monthly cheque.”
Each Focus session accepts about 12 people who have first gone through an assessment.

Dalziel said candidates have often been on assistance a long time, or on and off multiple times. She added they can also be “people that may have multiple barriers, and people who are looking to try and make a change.”

The participants spend the first three weeks looking at the impact poverty has had on their life, barriers they face, and work on plans to build the supports and resources they need to reach their goals.

The final three weeks of the program are spent on building more traditional job-search and retention skills. They’re provided grooming kits and money for clothing because there is a “business casual” dress code for the second part of the program.

At the end of FOCUS, one of the options for graduates is to be considered for the county’s Circles program which allies volunteers in the middle class with families in poverty to help them overcome life obstacles.

The second program noted in the report is the Men’s Employment Networking System, a three-week workshop for men age 18 to 26. It began in 2005 and is designed to help participants identify their strengths and set education, training or employment goals. So far, 82 people have graduated from it and tracking found that 67% left social assistance after two years.

Once they complete the programs, graduates work one-on-one with a caseworker.

“The caseworker is there to support them in any way they can,” Dalziel said.

That can range from helping clients work through problems with housing, childcare, transportation, or even finding a family doctor.

“The do all those things to stabilize and get people in a spot they can can continue to move forward,” she said.

“Everyone has a different situation, a different story and different needs. And, we try to address those.”

pmorden@theobserver.ca

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