Chilliwack has the highest percentage of vulnerable and at-risk children and youth in B.C.
That was one of the troubling facts offered by Karen Steegstra, Chilliwack’s Child and Youth Community Coordinator, in her National Child Day report to Chilliwack council on Tuesday.
“The visible need we might see as we drive through the downtown core is only the surface of challenges facing many children, youth, and families in Chilliwack,” Steegstra told council.
“I was shocked to discover that Chilliwack has the highest percentage of vulnerable children and at-risk youth in our province.”
She was also “deeply disturbed” to learn that a Community Action Team had to be established to “combat the sexual exploitation of youth” in Chilliwack, and that cocaine use here is relatively minor compared to the prevalence of the highly-addictive crystal meth.
For many local kids, she noted, the only meals they get are the ones dished out in school breakfast and lunch programs.
But in meeting a range of service providers and directors of local programs, Steegstra also said she was very impressed by the “high level of compassion” they showed for the at-risk and vulnerable, and the passion for ensuring youth get the resources needed to be successful.
It was noted that Early Years programming had significant social benefits, according to the research, and these types of prevention and intervention programs and services are offered locally at Gateway, Chilliwack Community Services, Sardis Doorway and the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre.
“When it comes to collaboration among agencies and community partners, Chilliwack is setting an example in the Fraser Valley,” Steegstra said.
“Collaborative practice is one of the ways agencies in Chilliwack are working together to put together a unified plan that best serves its clients.”
One of the ongoing challenges has been publicizing the existing services available in Chilliwack, but a locally run website is changing that.
“After only six months, Child and Youth.com has proved to be a great asset in getting information regarding services, workshops and programs to families and service providers.”
She also had a hopeful message for the future, stating she looks forward to partnering with various forces to continue building the healthy community that is Chilliwack.
“While our community of Chilliwack is doing its best with the resources available to provide appropriate services to children and youth, the policy makers in our province and country need to be pressed to make children and families a priority.”
Steegstra ended with a quote by F.D. Roosevelt, adding that it summed up the mandate of the Child and Youth Committee and its agencies: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for the future.”