SOS Children's Village BC is a wholly separate model of caring for foster children and youth - we are unique in our home province of British Columbia, and indeed, unique in all of Canada. We are the one and only SOS Children's Village across this great nation. We are also unique from the other 570+ SOS Villages around the world.
What makes us different?
There are four pillars behind the success of our model that separate us from the provincial foster care system and its delegated agencies:
- The SOS Parents: We believe being a foster parent is a profession, so we provide them with training and specialized support to ensure our SOS Moms and Dads are the best caregivers they can be to the traumatized foster children they welcome into their homes. Many of the youth in our Village have mental health conditions, so it is important for our caregivers to have the skills they need to deal with difficult behaviour and to nurture the healthy growth of these children.
- The Sibling Dynamics: We have a strong focus on keeping siblings in foster care together in the same foster home to grant stability (as long as that is deemed in the child’s best interests), while in other cases we create a mix of genders and ages to create a sibling dynamic. We believe that sibling groups are of primary importance in the healthy social development of children.
- The Home: The very word conjures up images of peace, harmony, love, and safety. We build, and provide at subsidized rent, a physically safe home for SOS Parents to create a nurturing family structure where a child’s basic needs are met, and further allows them to open up to the healing and growth programs provided in our Village. We don't just 'talk the talk' when it comes to permanency, we 'walk the walk'. Most children in our Village live there from toddler to young adult. It is traumatizing enough to be removed from the care of biological parents, and we do not wish to compound that with multiple moves from foster home to foster home.
- The Supportive Community: A community of professional caregivers working together and supported by a core of highly trained, dedicated, and dynamic SOS staff providing individualized, wrap-around programming for the children and caregivers. The foster kids have expressed to us that their neighbours within the Village are like extended family and many say that even though they are all different, they are all in foster care and can share that with one another. They feel that they belong and that they matter.
Children in foster care face challenges that most young people could never imagine. They endure crises, family breakdown, and perhaps see people they love and depend on abusing drugs and/or alcohol or suffering mental health problems. Maybe they have been abused themselves, physically, mentally, or sexually, and their childhood has been a living nightmare.
Foster children who live in the Village are never put on a waitlist for the services they need to become emotionally healthy again. Children in care need support and counselling to move on with their lives – this should never be optional. The park-like atmosphere of the 2.5 acre Surrey Village site is healing to its inhabitants, with specialized counselling available and caregivers looking out for each other’s children when they are playing outside.
The services provided to the foster families – free of charge thanks to donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations – include cognitive remediation and behavioural counselling, art and play therapy, cutting-edge Neurofeedback training, and narrative therapy. The standard SOS Village model around the world has mental health on the perimeter of program service, for us it is vital. In recognition of the importance we are striving to implement a trauma informed approach to all we do as an organization..
Dealing with the mental and emotional health of foster children is core to the SOS model of care, however like any parent SOS BC wants to give these children every opportunity, therefore we provide recreational opportunities, camps, music lessons, academic assistance, and cultural engagement to help them become well-rounded caring adults.
If the professionals at SOS BC notice red flag behaviour they can address and prevent it from escalating further into other adverse issues.
Unlike most SOS Villages around the globe, the SOS BC Village is integrated with the community. It does not stand out among the residential area where it exists, and we support foster families who live outside the Village campus in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Full support for youth aging out of care
Every year in our province, more than 700 teenagers ‘age out’ of the foster care system. As soon as they turn 19, the only support system they’ve known is no longer available to them, and they’re expected to begin taking care of themselves. But at just 19, with no confidence, no skills, and no support or resources, it’s setting these kids up for failure. And far too many of them do fail – ending up homeless, living on the streets, addicted, or in trouble with the law.
Like any parent, we don’t believe that a relationship ends with a child on their 19th birthday, our Transition to Adulthood program helps young adults move from the dependency enforced by being in care, to independence. That’s why we are excited about the construction of five independent living accommodations at our Village in the basements of the current houses. Separate building entrances, bath and restrooms, living spaces, and kitchen areas will allow young adults or young mothers, to live an independent lifestyle.
The at-risk youth in the new housing program will have greater social connections by developing relationships with the other children, youth, and caregivers in the SOS Village. The Village is a family, and it will become a family to teens in the year-long ‘Intensive Transition’ housing program:
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Unique to the SOS BC program, youth will be able to access any or all of the therapeutic and support programs offered to the Village families. These wrap-around support services will contribute to a more normalized experience of transitioning to adulthood for teens who cannot live with their biological families. SOS BC's sister organization, the SOS Children's Village Thrift Store Foundation, can outfit a young person with clothes, school supplies, furniture, and more, all at no charge. For example, the foundation has provided business attire that is needed for successful job interviews.
Once they graduate from our housing program, we continue our support with our commitment to lifelong engagement with our After Care/Alumni project.
A better model of care
We are well on the way to becoming the first Developmental, Interactive, and Therapeutic Village in the SOS world, providing unprecedented support to the children and caregivers utilizing a trauma-informed approach. To provide this environment, we strive to offer four experiences to every individual who comes into contact with our services: a feeling of safety, relationships in which they feel they can trust, opportunities to collaborate and choose the services that they are involved in, and lastly help in building the skills necessary to move forward and function well on the daily basis.
Our model takes into account that the most vulnerable and least visible children in the province of British Columbia unfortunately receive highly compromised service in the mainstream system due to chronic underfunding. We are implementing the proven and successful SOS International model in the context of the complex challenges and specifics of British Columbia, as an example for the citizens of BC to see how the effective investment of funds can permanently break the cycle of foster care.
We are experts in caring for children and youth
SOS Children’s Villages is the world’s largest non-governmental, non-denominational child development organization and operates over 570 Villages in 134 countries providing housing, foster parents, and programs to support over 553,000 foster children and orphans, SOS operates 2,365 projects including educational, medical, and vocational centres which reach over 1 million children and their families. The organization has existed for over 65 years.
From 2009 to 2013 - before aging out of care became regular front page news in BC - SOS Children's Villages International ran an I Matter campaign and produced a series of reports on the transition from childhood to adulthood. This transition is one of life's many challenges. For those leaving a care setting this process is especially difficult. With the I Matter campaign, SOS Children’s Villages helped to ensure that the challenges faced by those leaving care are no greater than those of any other young adult.
Unlike many who grow up with their biological families, young people who grew up in alternative child care may face greater obstacles, as confirmed by international studies. They must often become independent at a very early age. Support is therefore required, not only in the transition from care to independent living, but in some cases for some years after.
Young people can play a role in shaping legislation and initiating change. The I Matter campaign was about them sharing their experiences of living in foster families, SOS families, residential care, or other forms of care to help ensure that future care leavers share the same chances of success as their peers.
SOS Children's Villages continues to lead on this issue in 2017, kicking off a new Prepare for Leaving Care project. How can we best assist and support young people leaving alternative care? This is the central question of the project. 24 participants from the project’s six implementing countries, including seven young people, have already met to discuss project activities as well as to clarify roles and responsibilities.