How have neoliberal shifts from the 1980s to present day in social welfare delivery changed the services provided to street youth in Vancouver?

Author/s: Diana Guenther

Creation date: 2011-12-06

Contact info: dga25@alumni.sfu.ca

Senior supervisor: Peter V. Hall

Keywords: street youth, Vancouver, non-profit sector, neoliberalism, privatization

Geographic focus: Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: How have neoliberal shifts from the 1980s to present day in social welfare delivery changed the services provided to street youth in Vancouver?

Signficance

The history and development of street youth services in Vancouver is not well researched and this work aims to help fill that knowledge gap. This study takes an exploratory, qualitative approach and places the history of local street youth services in the context of wider-scale policy shifts away from the welfare state and towards the privatization of social services. These shifts have been particularly pronounced in British Columbia compared to other Canadian provinces. The author uses a “sociology of knowledge” approach that recognizes the contested, constructed nature of social problems and the power differences between stakeholders. Interviewing a broad range of stakeholders enabled the author to re-insert marginalized voices back into this policy discourse. The 25 stakeholders interviewed include former street youth and frontline workers, as well as senior managers in the public and non-profit sectors and those involved with advocacy work. This makes for an alternative, conflictual and multi-faceted reading of the history of this sector.

Findings

The author found that neoliberal regimes and politics as applied to Vancouver’s street youth services have undermined the public accountability of those services, obscured their power relations, and created a fragmented delivery system that is inadequately inclusive of stakeholder input and nearly impossible to effectively co-ordinate. Further, the author found that working in a context shaped by a neoliberal agenda has been divisive for all stakeholders, and that this calls into question whether a classic policy circle model, which puts the onus for reforming ineffective policy on stakeholders, is actually possible in the neoliberal context. The need to inject some democracy back into the system remains paramount.