Thanks very much, Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you all today and for undertaking this important work.
My name is Matthew Chater. I'm the president and CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. I suspect that many of you know what we do, but in short, we provide intentional mentoring relationships to young people facing adversity and in need of additional developmental relationships. Children and youth in our programs face toxic stress by living with adversities like poverty, mental illness, neglect, addiction, identity issues and a range of other sources. Sixty-three per cent of the young people in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs experience three or more of these adversities while at the same time having only one, or often zero, developmental relationships.
That is where we come in with our mentoring supports and services. We provide mentoring relationships to over 41,000 youth in Canada. We provide these services through the support of over 21,000 adult mentors who are matched with youth in our local agencies that operate in 1,100 communities across Canada. This amounts to over four million volunteer hours each year.
It will be of particular interest to this committee that this work is a valuable investment in the country’s economic future and our workforce. Research by the Boston Consulting Group found a return of 23:1 for every dollar invested in our mentoring, with those who have benefited from our programs more likely to be employed, earning more over the course of their career, being healthier both mentally and physically, and more likely to give back to their communities later in life in both dollars and time.
In other words, intentional mentorship through Big Brothers Big Sisters works. We have been providing this critical front-line service in Canada for over 100 years through wars, recessions, a depression and even previous pandemics. However, we, like you, have never experienced anything like COVID-19 and its resulting human and economic impact.
The pandemic has created two enormous challenges for us. First, our corporate and individual donations have slowed to a trickle. We have already been forced to reduce our staff team, and many of our local agencies have had to do the same. Looking ahead, 88% of our local agencies expect to lay off additional staff in the next three months.
I have heard and appreciate the concerns of some members about propping up charities that might have had flawed business models before the pandemic. We do not fall into this camp. We have always had strong fundraising and have never faced a situation like this in our history. Keep in mind that we lost our entire spring fundraising season, which naturally is our busiest time of year with fundraising events and is a critical source of cash flow for the remainder of the year. As a result, Big Brothers Big Sisters as a full federation is facing a forecasted $21-million shortfall, and that is just for 2020. We expect this reality to be even more precarious in 2021.
Let me be clear, though: Our priority is to continue serving the 41,000 youth in our system now. We will do, and have done, whatever it takes to sustain those relationships, and have put in place a host of measures to switch from in-person meetings and mentoring to doing so virtually. Great credit on this goes to our local agencies and the many volunteers who have adapted their service methods during this time of physical distancing. However, that too has costs. We are having to switch everything to online, which is no easy feat when you are doing the delicate work of matching volunteer mentors with youth through professional staff teams.
These costs come when our resources are stretched like never before. To give you a more practical example, if a youth can't afford a laptop or other device or access reliable Internet, they'd be unable to join a conversation, like the one we're having right now, with their mentor. These are the situations coming up every day that our member agencies are adapting and solving for.
We appreciate the initiatives of the government, such as the wage subsidy and the emergency community support fund, but they are simply not enough, unfortunately. I know you're hearing the same from other charities and non-profit organizations. We support the request of Imagine Canada and the coalition of non-profits and charitable organizations through War Child for a recovery stabilization fund for charities, which hopefully would be of sufficient size to support our cash flow and liquidity positions.
What I just covered is what I would describe as the challenges that we face today. There is also what you would consider our challenge of tomorrow, both for our organization and Canadian society as a whole. It is directly relevant to the work of this committee.
As I mentioned at the outset, we work with youth experiencing toxic stress. COVID-19 is a source of toxic stress for everyone, adults and youth alike. However, imagine what that is doing for a youth already living in isolation, for example, and who has no school, no support systems to rely on, limited contact with friends, if any, and parents who may have lost their jobs. The youths who were facing the greatest challenges before the pandemic are likely to be the most impacted by the pandemic.
Since March 12, calls to Kids Help Phone are up by 55% and texts are up 61%, with 76% of those reaching out saying that they had no one else to talk to. This is heartbreaking at any point in time, but more so now. We are grateful for the investments made by the Government of Canada in these services.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is recommended by Kids Help Phone as a program for young people to reach out to, and it provides ongoing mental health supports. However, we are now in a position wherein we are unable or barely able to sustain our existing matches, let alone take on an influx of new clients. To put that into perspective, we already had 15,000 youth on our waiting list before the pandemic. We expect, and have already seen in many regions, that number continue to grow exponentially as we come out of this and begin, as a community, to heal from the devastating effects of COVID-19. That will put further strain on our resources, both financial and volunteer.
While mentoring is critical for youth mental health, keep in mind that today's youth are going to be entering the worst job market in a hundred years or, perhaps, ever. They will bear the financial and social costs of the pandemic. A mentor at this time is therefore so valuable for helping youths make sense of the world. It is the simple act of giving hope where it may be lacking.
As I mentioned earlier, the data clearly show that mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters works in terms of future employment and earnings. In other words, it helps emotionally and mentally, but also economically. My appeal to you today is therefore twofold.
First, you should implement a sector stabilization grant for charities and non-profits, as has been recommended by Imagine Canada and others. If that is not possible, you should address our $21-million shortfall directly, given our role in providing front-line services to youth. You can rest assured that 90% of every dollar that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada is bringing in during this time goes directly to supporting children and families through our member agencies. We are one of the few youth-serving organizations that do not require bricks and mortar to continue providing front-line services. We reach right into the homes of vulnerable youth in Canada, offering critical life-saving relationships.
Second, you should start thinking about the recovery period and the tremendous strain that will be put on young people and front-line service organizations like our own, particularly regarding youth employment. We do not know how this social experiment will end or what its long-term effects will be. However, we do know that without additional ongoing positive relationships to buffer the toxic stress I spoke about earlier, research tells us that the next [Technical difficulty—Editor] problems and experience mental illness and disease at unprecedented levels. This is costly, and it is preventable with modest investments. Our focus at Big Brothers Big Sisters is on service continuity and the future of thriving communities across Canada, and we need the ongoing support of the federal government for that.
I speak to youth on a daily basis, as I suspect many of you do as well. I struggle tremendously to process the impact of what is happening as a result of the pandemic on their lives now and into the future. Layered on top of that are the complexities that we're seeing within racialized communities. Navigating the uncertainties of the global pandemic while facing its continual systemic challenges is truly challenging.
We will always be there for them as long as we can, but we do need help.
Thank you again for the invitation to be here today. I look forward to taking your questions.