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Family: the tie that binds

March 14, 2016

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familyParent leaders and representatives from local associations, the Provincial Executive Directors’ Group and Community Living Ontario came together last Friday in Toronto for an update on four demonstration projects on family engagement.

The services and supports that many Ontarians who live with an intellectual disability receive today are due to the collective voice and actions of families.

To remain current and to determine what is relevant to families, there has been a concerted effort by Community Living Ontario and its various stakeholders to create spaces for families to grow and learn from one another, to identify challenges and to seek out opportunities.

Examples of past initiatives include a report on family engagement from the Provincial Executive Directors’ Group called Inspired by Our Grassroots and a forum on family engagement hosted by the Provincial Executive Directors’ Coordinating Committee Task Force.

Since 2009, Community Living Ontario has facilitated a Family Leadership Series to gather diverse perspectives from families across the province and to enable them to come together, to learn, to celebrate and to support one another.

More recently, demonstration projects in Thunder Bay, Belleville, Welland and Brockville were established as part of the ongoing effort to bring families together, which included workshops on education, planning and advocacy.

Doug Cartan, from Community Living Consulting and a friend to the Community Living movement, met with Parent Leaders and representatives from local associations in each of those communities to get an understanding of the successes and challenges that resulted from the demonstration projects. Those discussions resulted in A Report on the Four Family Engagement Projects for the Community Inclusion Initiative of Community Living Ontario.

Cartan discussed the results of each project, where outcomes were mixed. In some instances, there was skepticism by families to association-sponsored events, and partnerships with families were not easy. Elsewhere, formal and informal events lead to learning and extended time together, and associations were better able to relate to families and connect. In other parts of the province, families are still integral to the associations’ strategic direction.

In summary, family engagement is defined differently by family members in each community. For an association, it can mean mobilizing family voices to strengthen its own interests, or families having a strong governing role in the direction of the organization, or listening and learning from families to better support their family members. Family engagement for families can mean orchestrated opportunities for extended conversations with one another, punctuated by learning and bounded by shared values.

Maureen Roy, Board Member with Community Living Welland Pelham, knows first-hand how an association can struggle with the issue of trying to connect with families. She says the demonstration project in her community encouraged herself and another family to think about precisely what they wanted to achieve and how to accomplish their goals.

“The project allowed us to try some new approaches, some of which worked, some of which didn’t, but all of which taught us valuable lessons and enabled us to stay focused on the longer term.”

Roy says they have been able to take a variety of steps towards their goal of providing a space for conversation and sharing interests and expertise with other families. She indicated that approximately 15 families are coming together to determine “what’s next?” and they hope that it’s the beginning of a new family dynamic in their community.

Where would Roy like to see family engagement be taken? For her, she would like to see Community Living Ontario include some actions around family engagement embed in its strategic plan, “so that there is a concrete, ongoing commitment from the provincial body to the importance of families.”

She also believes that associations need to support families to make connections with themselves.

“Association staff needs to encourage those connections without running a ‘family-connections programme.’ Find some family members who are willing to take a leadership role, get them the support they request, and let them gather in ways that work for them. It takes time, but it’s worth it!”

Community Living Ontario believes it has an essential role to play in strengthening family engagement. Several members of the Confederation’s Board of Directors were part of last

week’s conversation, a discussion that carried over to their Board meeting. Directors recommitted the Confederation to facilitating and creating the space for engagement.

Hélène Morin-Chain, President of Community Living Ontario, spoke about the importance of the organization’s commitment to families.

“Families are the basis of our organization; they were the founders of Community Living. We have forgotten that along the way, when the Ministry [of Community and Social Services] started funding us to do things the way they wanted. We have to go back to the families. They are our reason for being.”

Jill Teeple, Board Member with Community Living Ontario, described the concerted effort around family engagement as an incredible journey.

“It was amazing to be in a room with families who had worked for years on trying to reach out to other families and connect with their local organizations, as well as Community Living Ontario.”

Community Living Ontario will continue to bring families together so that there are opportunities to connect and learn from one another, in order to support family members to have a good life.

– Ron Laroche, Community Living Ontario

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