On one of those rare sunny days this past week at our cottage, I found myself reflecting on my last assignment as the interim Executive Director of a Community Living Agency.
First of all, Ontario should be proud of the system of services we have built across the province over the past 150 years. Many thousands of people with developmental disabilities are living richer, more independent and safer lives because of the programs we have in place. Our NFP agencies are staffed with legions of dedicated, and caring staff and their efforts deserve to be recognized.
We have also done well with our volunteer boards who take on enormous responsibilities, including liabilities and do it “pro bono” in service of their communities.
Our system of services is stretched and we need to redouble our efforts to keep it strong and able to respond to ever increasing waitlists. Our population is aging and more families are looking for help to care for their family members with developmental disabilities.
In recent years, Governments have been more aggressive in planning for our seniors. We need to do the same for people with disabilities. They too have a right to enjoy quality life and pursue full citizenship. Indeed the province has increased the investment in developmental services to over 2 billion but it still falls far short of what is required.
It is important that our system continues to respect “choice” and protects against the excesses of narrow vision. The needs of people with developmental disabilities are very different and the strengths of their families equally vary.
Some people are well served living independently in apartments with occasional supports. Others need the structure and safety that only exists in 24 hour staffed group living. Some individuals are able to pursue paid work in the community and these opportunities should be expanded, others need to have similar options to engage in recreation or social activities with friends they choose.
Some families prefer to manage the supports for their sons and daughters and so direct funding programs such as Passport are welcome. Other families for a myriad of reasons want agencies to assume more responsibility. Our service system should support both of these choices.
The demands on NFP Agencies have increased dramatically over the decades. They now operate in a complex, heavily legislated and compliance focused environment. They need more expertise to navigate the labyrinth of finance, labour relations and IT demands. Boards have a responsibility to assess their gaps and look to new partnerships and alliances to strengthen their capacity.
There is no doubt that we have made progress in recognizing the importance of full citizenship and choice for vulnerable populations, but we need to do more to preserve and expand the continuum of services we have built in this province. The road to success will require government and agencies to work together with families and people with disabilities.
Hoping for sunnier days!
By Vince Tedesco
NFP & Public Sector Executive Management
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