The staff at Kelowna Youth and Family Services held one last gathering together Wednesday before their office was permanently closed.
A presence in the city for 39 years, Kelowna City hall announced earlier this fall a plan to close the service, located in a downtown office location on Harvey Avenue, and redirect the funding into a revised social service agenda being developed by city hall to address issues such as crime, drug abuse and homelessness
Mariko Siggars, City of Kelowna neighbourhood and services manager, said the counselling service will be shifted to the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club family services branch, which should be started up by mid-January.
“We are making every effort to provide a smooth transition for KYFS clients between now and when the service is up and running at the boys and girls club here in Kelowna,” said Siggars.
“We want to make sure no one falls through the cracks over the next month, especially during the holiday season.”
The KYFS closure was bittersweet for the staff as they said their good-byes, the general feeling being the systematic approach to counselling they offered will be lost and missed by their clients.
Some counsellors are moving into private practice, another is looking to continue with the program under the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club umbrella, and others plan to retire.
Receptionist Edwina Smiley, who has worked in the office for 28 years, is moving to Alberta, while among those retiring is Terry Dunn, who has been with the counselling service since its inception.
Their counselling goal was to look beyond the issues a particular client was facing and consider the positive and negative influences within the environment they live in, such as family relationships.
They estimate more than 10,000 families have been assisted by KYFS since it was opened, initially inspired through the efforts of former Kelowna RCMP staff sergeant Jack Hest, who appealed to the city to fund a counselling service to assist youth at risk back in the late 1970s.
The staff issued a public statement, calling it an honour and a privilege to have been trusted by Kelowna families to provide early intervention counselling services.
“Over the years, doctors, schools and many other agencies in the community have come to recognize Kelowna Youth and Family Services as a valued and unique service that has addressed the needs of families and youths in the primary context of where they have lived,” said the statement.
“We (the staff) wish to express our thanks to these partners as well. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your journey and part of your lives. We have been changed and honored to have served you for these many years.”
Siggars noted the service closure is a result of a change in social service philosophy at city hall.
“KYFS has been around a long time and the staff there certainly gave of themselves and strongly believed in the service they were providing which was valued by our community,” Siggars said.
She said the philosophical change involves moving from counselling people facing social issues in their lives to more preventative social assistance programs, grounded in the recent recommendations of the public safety report to city council by former Kelowna RCMP staff sergeant Bill McKinnon coupled with the Journey Home Strategy.
“The social health of our community is a priority and the city is changing the way we approach the problem through services we offer and collaborating with other support agencies as well,” Siggars said.