INNISFAIL – The roller coaster ride for the survival of Innisfail & District Victim Services, a valued regional agency for the past 27 years, is now on track with a new “piece of hope” for traumatized citizens to have direct access to the essential service.
The agency’s demise in Innisfail and the region looked imminent following the provincial government’s announcement more than seven months ago that there was a plan to move dozens of independent community agencies supporting victims of crime towards a four-office regional governance model; a plan that would see Innisfail’s victim services office at the local RCMP detachment going to a new regional centre in Leduc.
“For the last year or so we’ve been talking about what victim services might look like and I’ve been pretty vocal about how it was looking kind of hopeless and scary on what we were envisioning for our future,” said Mary Dawn Eggleton, the local agency’s executive director, to an attentive audience on Oct. 1 at the 3rd annual Innisfail March Against Domestic Violence. “I honestly can’t give you any hard facts on what exactly this is going to look like but we do have a piece of hope.
“We've been loud and noisy enough that some of the messaging coming out from the government right now has been a bit of a switch around,” she added. “They're saying that we can still continue a community engagement; that when the whole restructuring program is finished at a community level you guys should not experience any disruptions.”
Eggleton said it’s her understanding through the “key messages” from the provincial government that the change into a new regional governance model will officially begin on April 1, 2024, with it being completed by August of next year.
She said the new redesign process for victim services continues to be a “living work in progress”, with nothing firmly “written in stone,” and feedback continuing to be “seriously considered.”
However, at this point she said there will be no change in service delivery, and that referrals will still come from members and that staff and volunteers will still work out of local detachments.
Eggleton added the difference will be in having the new regional structure for support, which includes finances, administration, legal, human resources, standardized policy and procedures, and coordination.
She said it’s also her understanding volunteer victim advocates will remain in the new redesign plan and deployed out of their local offices under the supervision of frontline caseworkers.
Eggleton said local autonomy will also be maintained on crisis call-outs, community engagement, awareness activities, prevention work, and community walk-ins.
She said it’s expected there will be no reduction in staffing, with each detachment looked at individually.
Eggleton’s Innisfail office, which currently employees herself and program administrator Makayla Bierkos, also has six volunteer board members, five volunteer victim advocates, and another four to five volunteers who help with special events.
“You should still see the same people out of your detachment offering the same jobs, the same work and walking your journeys the best way we know how with you as best we can,” said Eggleton. “We'll have a regional executive director out of Leduc but we should be doing the same work we've been doing all along.
“We will still have a victim services office located where we were all along in the police detachment.”
Mike Ellis, provincial minister of public safety and emergency services, said in an email statement to the Albertan that the intention of the victim service redesign is to keep frontline victim service providers in local communities, co-located with local police and local volunteer advocates.
He said the transition to four new regional victim serving societies (RVSS) is focused on centralizing board governance and administrative functions.
Ellis said court and support navigators will continue to work at the RCMP detachment level with the responsibility and autonomy to run local operations.
He added local providers will operate under the coordination and supervision of centralized support staff in their region.
“Each new RVSS will employ a team of professional support staff that will perform the organization’s core administrative and management functions,” said Ellis.
Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay, a strong advocate for the victim services agency, told the Albertan last week that although the Town of Innisfail has not received any direct contact from the provincial government on the future of victim services in the community she said it appears there has been a “change of approach” due to concerns from across the province.
“I think what we're seeing is a good balance, although nothing has been confirmed at this point,” said Barclay. “It's great to hear the victim services unit here will very likely be staying intact within the RCMP detachment because it's such a valuable service to the community.”