As a society we have offloaded our responsibility to care for those who are most vulnerable to the professionals. What that has done is to simultaneously overburden the professional sector and disempower communities.
I have written and spoken previously about a development that I call “the professionalization of care” (see, for example, this issue of the Shalem Digest, a video introduction to WrapAround, and a recent blog). The outcomes of this development with people who are marginalized are not good.
To change this—and to improve outcomes—professionals and communities need to work together in a much different way than they presently do. Professionals need to learn how to embed themselves in communities, and communities need to step up and assume their rightful responsibilities.
So when, in that light, communities do step up, it’s important to take notice and celebrate. Here are two recent community initiatives that I am aware of that deserve all kinds of attention, support and accolades.
The first is the Peace River Region Restorative Justice Association. Full disclosure: my son serves on the Association’s Board of Directors. Peace River is a small community of 7,000 people, located a five-hour drive north of Edmonton, Alberta. It was my privilege to be there recently, and I was able to visit, for the second time in the past year, with the Association’s outstanding Program Coordinator, China Sieger.
The Association is doing extraordinary work. Their focus is on bringing together young people who have caused harm with the people who have been affected by that harm. Their restorative justice facilitators are community volunteers. Their partnerships in the community, including with the local RCMP, are strong. They are committed to best practices in restorative justice. And they are on the cusp of great things. Their efforts deserve to be highlighted and celebrated!
A second worthy community-based effort is the Green Wood Coalition in Port Hope, Ontario. Green Wood was born out of a desire by several community volunteers to connect with and engage people in the community who are homeless or whose housing is seriously substandard and insecure. Their community-based effort has grown over several years. And now, to deepen their practice, with funding support from their local United Way, they have embarked on having Green Wood community volunteers implement WrapAround with a number of people they are engaged in community with. It is my privilege, along with my WrapAround colleague Jane Ashmore from WrapAround Northumberland, to support Green Wood with WrapAround training and coaching.
These two community-based initiatives stand alongside Shalem’s successful community-based WrapAround Hamilton program, a volunteer-driven effort by Hamilton community members, supported by Shalem, to care effectively for some of the most vulnerable families, youth and individuals in Hamilton. And they complement an extraordinary church volunteer-driven WrapAround program in the Chatham-Kent area, called WrapAround Relational Ministries, operated by the Chatham-Kent Neighbourlink program. Check out their webpage and short video segments describing the fruits of their work.
All of these community-based efforts need to be recognized, celebrated, supported and congratulated. They are counter-cultural—they go against the grain of our society’s strong impulse to offload our responsibilities to professionals, and of professionals’ impulse to accept that delegation of responsibility to their own expertise. These initiatives learn from professional input in order to not inadvertently cause more harm. And they are doing extraordinarily important work.
Think about your community. How might your community, or communities, step up? What support would you need? How would you get it? Don’t hesitate to contact Shalem. It’s in our DNA to support—and celebrate—these kinds of beautiful efforts.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is the Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network.