As a parent of a child who has a disability, I was often given many opportunities to share my story. Human service professionals, organizations and government continually want to hear from parents about what is working well and what can be improved. The more our stories are shared, the more we can learn and both parents and professionals realize the value of bringing our perspectives together.
One of my first opportunities to share was as a member of a local children’s services restructuring committee. The provincial government was reorganizing with a promise to, “make services work for people.”
On my first day, I introduced myself to a woman sitting next to me. She asked me where I worked and I said, “oh, I’m just a parent.” Immediately, she responded by saying, “you’re never just a parent. Your voice is the most important voice.” My first lesson into the world of parent advocacy and family leadership.
So there I was, being asked to help shape a vision of improved access and better responsiveness for services for children and families. The opinions and ideas of the parents on the committee were held in high regard. Our vision was based on our knowledge from the experiences that we all lived through. Our vision was about teamwork and partnership across sectors. It involved family leadership and seamless coordination. We were all going to be working together because everyone wanted to, didn’t they? After all, it was in the best interest of the children and families. The government was going to make it work for us because that’s what they said they were doing. Right?
We worked on a vision and plan for a couple of years and then we watched it unfold. We were finally going to see our dreams come true. Not so fast. The entity that evolved was not the outcome that we had dreamed about and had worked so passionately and tirelessly to create.
While the government asked us to dream and dream big, they weren’t offering any new funding to support our vision. As a result, what was created had to “fit in” to what already existed, a mere crumb of that beautiful cake we thought we would savor and enjoy.
It was also disappointing to see that the service professionals weren’t as eager as the parents to see change. It was a job for them, not a way of life.
About a year later, another opportunity came my way. A local agency wanted to increase family leadership as part of their blueprint for support. Myself and another parent founded a family leadership organization, structured at arm’s length to the agency. This set up gave us a situation where we had the freedom to work with families in a flexible manner, not restricted by legislation and we worked alongside and closely with the support staff and agency leadership. Our philosophy was that by working together, in a genuine way, we would learn from each other and grow together and truly, make services work for people.
Our leadership was valued. We were parent consultants, equal partners and we were compensated as professionals. In this role, we were asked to advise on new policy development and facilitate in staff training. We worked on special projects and created tools that would help families. We provided a listening ear to families and helped them to get their voice heard. It didn’t take long before we collaborated with our community partners such as school boards, hospitals, municipalities and other related groups.
Families were in the driver’s seat, sharing the journey with others, alternating between the role of driver and the navigator.
One of the key elements to our success was that we asked our community what they would like to see, what changes they believed would increase the resilience of our community members and how we could work together to make it happen.
This work went way beyond the role of advocacy and sharing my story. It was about sharing perspectives, joint decision-making and committing to change and continuous improvement. It was my first experience with true, authentic engagement.
Since then I have been a manager and a consultant in community driven initiatives. Authentic engagement has become my mantra. I believe in it, because it works.
My passion is to assist others to do the same. Whether it be to establish family leadership and increase family engagement, or to work with partners to bring about community change, I am here to help.
My work is important to me for it generates a social profit, something that helps to strengthen and fortify people and communities.
I welcome the opportunity to help you get started. Don’t wait. Contact me today.