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SOS village all-encompassing in caring for youth in need

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 2:56 PDT, Mon September 14, 2020

Within a community of homes dedicated to children in foster care, five youth who have recently aged out of the system live in transitional basement suites. Providing support to youth who have aged out of the more traditional foster care system is a key component of SOS Children’s Village.

The only Canadian branch is located in BC, started by Richmondites Lois and Gilles Bouchard in 1986 after five years of sowing the seeds. The Bouchards received funding for the land from the international umbrella of SOS in 1992. Each of the five homes in the 2.5 acre Surrey village can accommodate six kids aged 18 and younger, as well as one youth in the transitional basement suite. The village also employs other staff including a teacher, two youth workers and a counsellor.

“Small businesses like (the SOS Children’s Village thrift store in Steveston) go into supporting the village,” says SOS Children’s Village BC executive director Kistie Singh. 

Funding from the store helps with things like education and on-site clinical supports for children and youth in care. But like many industries, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the work of the SOS Children’s Village BC team. They had to close their stores for eight weeks, creating more work for teams intent on supporting the children and youth living in the village. And when the pandemic hit, one youth who had recently aged out of care had a baby. Four staff members searched every store for a specific formula that seemed to be sold out everywhere.

“That’s how we’re managing day-to-day,” says Singh. “We have to wake up, listen to our community, see who needs what and prioritize.”

Of particular concern is the plight of youth aging out of care. Half of children in care in BC are Indigenous, Singh says—and the graduation rate is just 12 per cent.

“These kids need to be independent and be able to take care of themselves when they age out,” says Singh.

Kids in care in the village aren’t automatically aged out when they turn 19. Instead, they are coached through how to find what Singh calls the ‘big three’: employment, housing and possibly education. She says most kids don’t get all three. Through alumni and aftercare services, staff try to stay connected quarterly to youth who have aged out of care. Some want their independence, Singh says, but some were especially glad to hear a familiar voice during the pandemic.

Staffing their thrift stores with volunteers is a cost saver for SOS Children’s Village, so most revenue is able to go back to children and youth in care. But many volunteers at the Steveston location are seniors, so had to stop volunteering to protect their own safety.

Singh says anyone with interest in volunteering should consider helping out at this time. Those who have used items that might be of interest to thrift store shoppers should get them to the store if possible.

“One of the best things, if people can’t afford to give, is to connect to social media to get the message across,” says Singh. “There may be other kids in the community who could also use help.”

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