Loss of immigrant settlement funding a concern: school board

Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang -
Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang
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Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang knows first-hand it's not easy coming to a new country, even if you speak the language.

"I remember as a new immigrant to Canada it was difficult to know the system. I spoke English but I knew my English from England was different from the English spoken in Canada. It's a huge learning curve even if you don't have the other learning challenges our families have."

It could become even more difficult next year once the federal government changes the way it funds immigrant settlement programs.

Burnaby school board is raising concerns about the expected loss next year of federal funding for its immigrant settlement support services.

Since 2007-2008, Burnaby has been receiving the money for programs such as immigrant outreach, Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS), and assisting immigrant youth at risk.

Currently, Burnaby receives $970,000 annually which is allocated and administered by the province on behalf of Ottawa. There are now 21 school districts across B.C. providing such services.

Burnaby had 14 SWIS workers in the district in 2011-2012 when it assisted more than 4,800 clients from 81 countries settle in the community, said Narang.

However, as of April 1, 2014, the funding will be allocated by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"It's like one shoe fits all, they're trying to provide a Canada-wide service but that's not taking into account the demographics of individual communities," Narang said.

The non-profits and other organizations that now work together, including school districts, will find themselves competing for the same funding, she said.

"It's going to be really difficult to know which families are going to fall through the cracks because there isn't going to be any system."

The changes have raised uncertainty particularly among clients who, under the planned new system, would no longer have one point person to go to for support and to navigate them through the system.

"It takes many immigrants time to establish trust in a new country where they don't speak the language and many have escaped tragic circumstances," she said.

"The assumption is going to be that so-and-so is looking after them and maybe no one is."

Those point people are also part of the school system so are able to make referrals while maintaining the families' privacy.

"As a school district we would have concerns about allowing information about our students, going out to other agencies," she said.

"It's a very crucial need for our communities and it's making people feel very vulnerable."

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