“COVID-19 is a game-changer,” said ISSofBC Settlement Services Director Chris Friesen, surveying the service landscape and the impact that ISSofBC’s investments in technology in recent years have had on service delivery in the current health crisis.

“It has helped to accelerate technological advance that will continue to grow…(and) to clarify where in-person services will continue to be needed (beyond the pandemic),” he explained last week in a podcast, Technology in Human Services, with host Marco Campana.

Since ISSofBC closed its 14 offices and service locations in B.C. on March 18, all services including settlement, language training, employment training, self-employment, and legal assistance, were switched to delivery online or by phone. In-person services were maintained for critical cases, including those for refugees and refugee claimants.

A number of technology-based initiatives launched within the last 12 months are serving ISSofBC’s clients well in the current crisis. These include:

  • Newcomer.info – a partnership project with Vancouver Community Network, this two-way, mass text-messaging tool enables rapid and real-time information-sharing with refugee and immigrant newcomers. During COVID-19, it has allowed for the dissemination of scam alerts targeting newcomers;
  • Welcome to Canada” initiative – a partnership project with TELUS that expands its Internet for Good and Mobility for Good programs through a customized pilot to help government-assisted refugees and other newcomers stay connected with their communities and critical services by providing them with refurbished phones and internet service at affordable prices; and,
  • NewTrack – a dynamic, sector-tailored database/CRM system that allows for the robust collection and analysis of client and service data to meet the highest level of accountability.

But even as this radical shift in service delivery highlighted the growing use of technology by immigrants and newcomers, it also identified a cohort of newcomers with digital literacy issues who risk being “left behind” amid the inevitable, irreversible push of technological advancement.

In a fortuitous alignment of circumstances, work was completed early this month on the Digital Literacy Curriculum Resource, a website launched May 4th that supports English language instructors and those in the Settlement field in helping newcomer clients overcome digital literacy barriers. Digital literacy is even more important during the current COVID-19 crisis as it enables vulnerable, isolated newcomers to access needed services and stay connected in their communities.

“We need to have a national space outside of our funded-agency silos for horizontal discussions to support each other….to help all of us elevate our game as it pertains to the changing needs of our clients in the use of technology,” Chris urged.