This study is designed to help settlement service providers anticipate new developments and bolster their capacities so they are better able to partner with governments and other stakeholders to meet the challenges facing newcomers and the communities where they reside. The goal of this paper is to ensure that settlement agencies have the capacity to fully partner with governments in designing policies and programs to meet the emerging challenges facing newcomers and the communities in which they settle. This is not, presently, the case.
The analysis is based on workshops, focus groups and interviews with the heads of settlement organizations and ethno‐specific agencies across Canada. Interviews were also conducted with senior provincial and federal officials as well as executives from United Ways and community foundations. Where available, the study tapped academic and government research, including program evaluations and policy assessments.
This paper advances the following arguments:
- That successful settlement and integration measures require governments and settlement organizations to work collaboratively;
- That the settlement sector possesses unique skills and knowledge acquired by virtue of its work with newcomers and institutions that interact with newcomers;
- That meeting emerging challenges requires precisely those skills in which settlement organizations enjoy a comparative advantage; and
- That there exists a shared interest by governments and the settlement sector in expanding the sector’s intellectual and mediating capacities, distinct from the sector’s service delivery capacities.
The skills and knowledge possessed by settlement agencies are embodied in four strategic capacities that are unique to the sector. These are:
- An ability to comprehensively assess client needs and to assemble a bundle of services to address those needs, cutting across program silos;
- An ability to focus on families rather than individuals as the ‘unit of analysis’;
- A ‘place‐based’ ability to channel services to neighbourhoods and to promote ‘bridging’ between mainstream and newcomer communities; and
- An ability to bring together services in times of crisis.
The specialized knowledge possessed by settlement agencies and the trust they enjoy among newcomers and newcomer organizations can only be acquired tacitly by engaging in integration activities and mediating relations between mainstream and ethno‐specific organizations. Settlement agencies solve problems for individual immigrants, immigrant families and communities by creatively assembling government programs and other stakeholder services. Governments cannot do this because program knowledge is generally siloed and ministries tend to be unfamiliar with program intersections and interactions.
The fact that the settlement sector’s strategic capacities must be acquired ‘on-the-job’ means that the sector’s strengths cannot be replicated by other agencies, thus constituting a durable, strategic advantage.
Anticipated challenges and required capacities
A range of important challenges face settlement practitioners and policymakers. Addressing these challenges will require capacities that favour the settlement sector:
- Policy reviews point to growing concern with long‐term integration and with social and cultural goals such as fostering belonging and promoting engagement. Implementing these directions will require assembling a more complex array of services for a longer duration. It will also require more attention to local receptivity.
- Concern with budgetary deficits will cap or reduce settlement spending, forcing settlement agencies to compete for support within a shrinking social policy envelope. Innovation and an ability to leverage support from new sources represent critical responses to anticipated fiscal pressures.
- Social inclusion will become an increasingly important priority. Immigrant poverty, particularly among visible minority populations in and around major cities, constitutes an existential threat to the immigration program. Combating social exclusion will require more complex interventions and social bridging.
- Provincial and municipal interest in immigration is growing, including demands for integration services in cities with limited integration service capacity. Municipal institutions and mainstream organizations will need help from service providers in order to attract, retain and integrate newcomers.
- Increases are expected in the flow of highly‐skilled, fully‐fluent immigrants who can be served by mainstream organizations as well as the flow of lower and mid‐skilled entrants who require the sustained assistance offered by service provider agencies.
- Increased settlement funding and government willingness to experiment with service delivery has brought new competitors into the settlement arena. Measures such as service vouchers expand this ’threat’.