By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle marked another major shakeup in the delivery of services for vulnerable Albertans.Human Services has now become a super-ministry responsible for every major social program, including those for unemployed, disabled and homeless Albertans, as well as children in care. A new associate minister in the department will focus specifically on services for people with disabilities.The Seniors ministry has been dismantled, and services for older Albertans will now be provided by the Department of Health, under the auspices of an associate minister.The changes mark another step in Premier Alison Redford’s plan to remake Alberta’s social safety net.Gayla Rogers, former dean of the University of Calgary’s department of social work, said Redford is building a system that serves the people who need it, not the bureaucrats that run it.“This is a premier who understands that you’ve got to connect the dots,” Rogers said. “I think she really understands how silos don’t address the whole person.”Rogers said the goal of a person-centred social safety net is to ensure that vulnerable users don’t need to tell their stories “18 different times, to 18 different people, who fill out 18 different forms.”“Usually, our most vulnerable families and individuals are vulnerable because they have complex lives,” Rogers said. “There is an intersection between poverty, lack of education, unemployability and illness, whether it’s chronic or acute. These things are overlapping, and then compounding.”Under the new system, she said a person with a disability might have care needs, housing needs and training needs addressed in the same place, for example.“It just makes sense. It is responsible, and at the end of the day it makes economic sense, and we’ve got the studies to prove it.”The only risk, Rogers said, is that the status quo will prevail despite the reconfiguration and the silos will continue to exist inside the new ministry.The restructuring is centred on Human Services, and Redford put Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Dave Hancock at the helm.His will be among the first departments to go through Redford’s zero-based budgeting process, which means dismantling the budget and rebuilding it from scratch, justifying each program along the way.During the Tory leadership race last summer, Redford pledged to “identify services that can be transferred to community leadership or privatized.”The premier first introduced the Human Services super-ministry after taking office in October, and immediately consolidated three departments under its umbrella: Child and Family Services, Housing and Urban Affairs and Employment and Immigration.With Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle, Redford went on to dismantle the Seniors ministry and portioned it out, so Human Services is now also responsible for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Protection for Persons with Disabilities, both previously delivered by the Seniors ministry.Further, Human Services department is responsible for designing and implementing Redford’s 10-year plan to end poverty in Alberta, a lofty election promise that makes Alberta one of the last provinces to introduce a poverty reduction strategy.The department will also create the province’s new Social Policy Framework, which will guide the alignment and redesign of social policy and programs in Alberta.Neither Redford nor Hancock was available to comment ThursdayPAGEBREAKThe department will also create the province’s new Social Policy Framework, which will guide the alignment and redesign of social policy and programs in Alberta.Neither Redford nor Hancock were available to comment Thursday.
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journalkkleiss@edmontonjournal.com