VANCOUVER, BC: One size most definitely does not fit all in providing community social services, and a non-profit serving some of B.C.’s most complex citizens is a clear example of that.
PLEA Community Social Services develops an individual care plan for every one of the 1,200 people referred for its services every year.
“Some of those people are youth and need a plan that looks a lot like parenting,” said Jen Graham, communications and development manager, PLEA Community Social Services. “Others have brain injuries or disabilities and need plans that look more like health care. Others need a little – or a lot of – help on any number of fronts: housing, family support, life skills, school or work, addictions.
“We’re trying to provide the care a person needs to stay stable,” said Graham. “Our goal is to give them the foundation to a good life, whatever that looks like for them – helping them take care of their basic needs, stabilizing their relationships, figuring out school and work if that’s possible, and even a nutritional plan. We’re addressing whatever it is people need in the different domains of their lives and supporting them to work out where they want to be going.”
PLEA got its start in 1979 when a retired B.C. probation officer, the late Bernie Agg, took action on his long-standing experiences of seeing youth cycling through endless problems with the law. Agg believed relationships were the key to breaking the cycle. The non-profit organization he founded became one of the first in Canada to offer young people community-based programs as an alternative to custody.
Graham said: “PLEA is based on four beliefs: The power of relationship; everyone has the right to make choices about what happens to them; the idea of focusing on people’s strengths rather than their deficits; and keeping programs realistic. I’ve worked here seven years now and know that this organization truly lives its beliefs.”
PLEA provides public and gated services. The latter are highly customized, delivered to about 1,200 people a year and available only through referral. Most referrals are from probation officers and social workers in B.C. and the Northwest Territories.
PLEA’s public services, focused on prevention, reach tens of thousands of other British Columbians, including some 25,000 students who take part in PLEA’s Children of the Street school presentations about sexual exploitation and about 130 children in KidStart who are supported by volunteer mentors.
“With a network of more than 160 caregivers, PLEA manages home shares for people with developmental disabilities living in their own apartment in a family-style environment, and other homes where care is round-the-clock but still very much about creating family,” Graham said. “Doing even more around housing is a goal for PLEA.
“We’d love to have the full spectrum of housing. Right now, we’re working on youth transitioning from their family home to independence by moving into an independent suite in the house. Then we’ll need other housing to move them into when they’re ready for full independence – an apartment block, perhaps, maybe with some services downstairs.”
PLEA’s gated programs have carried on uninterrupted by the pandemic, albeit with necessary adaptations to meet new health requirements.
“One of the most challenging aspects is finding things to do in the community for the people we serve,” Graham said. “Maintaining connections is a particular challenge for clients from the Northwest Territories, far from home, referred to B.C. to receive PLEA services, which do not yet exist in the Northwest Territories. In non-pandemic times, going home for a visit is an option, but virtual calls and newspapers sent from home regions have had to suffice during the past year.”
The B.C. government has proclaimed March as Community Social Services Awareness Month in appreciation of the more than 42,000 people who work in the community social services sector. They provide help and assistance to those who need it most.
Written and released by BC Government