Community connectors reflect shift to strengths-based approach
Lisa Bailey

Looking to the future of the developmental services sector, posAbilities program director Gord Tulloch sees greater community integration and more specialized supports. “I think in many ways the people we’re supporting will be the same people we’re supporting in some respects, but we’ll be supporting them quite differently,” he says.

This change reflects a strengths-based approach to advancing the mission of inclusion.

For example, some people now supported in custodial day programs will instead receive assistance in maintaining competitive employment, Gord says, with individual skills and assets leveraged to facilitate meaningful, paid work.

Other individuals, meanwhile, will continue to be supported in more intensive models but staff will utilize more specialized skills, such as for behaviours or health.

Gord says he sees the role of staff shifting.

“I think we’ll see a lot more emphasis on community integration and access so, for example, right now a lot of job descriptions are for care workers. I think gradually that is going to phase out and become  specialized in terms of the kind of care (provided), but we’ll see increasing growth — and  a lot of organizations are doing this now — in community connectors.”

Community connectors don’t “buffer the world” for the people they support but reach out to build relationships with a view to full integration.

They may, for example, find community members with the same interests as the people they support so interests can be explored together, or pinpoint courses that facilitate meaningful employment.

“They’re bridging a person with their community,” Gord says.

Community connectors would likely have a different skill set and education than other staff members. In many respects, Gord says, they will be marketers, social conveners and facilitators.

“And where do we find those? We may not find them in conventional places like colleges and so on that are producing care workers. We might be going to business schools at some level,” he says.

In order for the sector to shape a future vision, Gord says two things must happen.

First, a commitment must be made to holding conversations around vision and innovation.

Right now, Gord says, organizations are focused on problem-solving which saps energy and the ability to think creatively.

“Too many people are (visioning) off the corner of their desk and too many ideas sitting in drawers have been shelved or just died the death of poor execution,” he says.

“So I think we need to set aside time and have some really robust and comprehensive conversations around a vision, a future, and then the strategies will fall into place.”

This process must also include stakeholders such as families, funders, businesses, multicultural groups and other community members.

“The more collaborators you need, the more partners you need, the more you’re certain to talk about innovation capital and not just service improvements or enhancements,” Gord says.

The other requirement is a re-examination of ideology which, in large part, inhibits innovation, Gord says.

“There are all kinds of easy, prevailing judgements, platitudes, that are made,” he says, such as adults don’t have to learn if they don’t want to or people who have disabilities should not congregate.

“I understand why ideology is so convenient when you’re working with a really vulnerable population group. You’re looking for black and white because you don’t want to make mistakes and you want to have some footing upon which to make judgements, but some of these ideologies emerged 30 to 40 years ago, and it’s like you try and move forward and people make associations, which is like institutional thinking,” Gord says.

He says he believes a “post-modern, much more sophisticated and complex understanding of our community, cultural and social ethos, philosophical assumptions and ethical values” is needed to help drive the sector forward.

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