For the people and families we support we create plans around choices. Some of those discussions about choices are awesome. When we support new parents, we use an approach called routines based practice. This involves collaborating to find ways to encourage development within the families’ regular daily routine. At the center of these choices is a belief and hope in the family and the child, and that together we can give the child their best opportunity.
Choice in adult services is not so clear cut. In the era of institutions, providers told people we knew best. However, looking back, some of the choices made were pretty awful. We told people who would be their roommates. We told them where they could work, but the choice of a job with benefits was not an option. We told people what to eat and in many cases, the food was the same every day of the week.
Most people no longer live in institutions but they don’t have choices all of the time either. We have collectively forgotten choice. Choice is about exploring possibilities.
In the day, we moved quickly to create sheltered workshops. This was about the time I was entering the field. The idea was that we would give people training in work skills and habits, and the next step would be community based employment. Somewhere along the way, that idea disappeared and sheltered workshops became the places people would stay. The thinking became that a workshop was a safer place to be and thus, a great choice. For many in the workshops now, it is all they know and they were never offered the choice of anything else. While wonderful caring staff works in these sheltered workshops and they are full of constant activity, this cannot be an excuse for the community to not embrace integrated employment in a variety of companies and businesses. We have some great candidates waiting for the right employers and vice versa.
Choice is also about potential. We created group homes. But like the workshops, the group home can’t be the last stop. For some folks they are. It needs to be more like what most of us had growing up in our family homes with the opportunity to acquire skills, work at jobs, make friends, all in preparation for leaving the nest. Our parents continued to worry about us, but they also knew we could take care of ourselves. Personally, I feel pretty good that my kids call sometimes to talk about problems or challenges in their lives, and they are contributing at work, at home and in their communities. In our service planning all parties are far from consistent in expressing the choices to “grow and fly the nest”. For many the right choice is what to learn first; what are the essentials for my independence? When someone is forever sheltered there is no choice to “fly the nest”. How can there be when you are being forever told this is the only place you can succeed? How can we mobilize our resources and help people realize their dreams, feel valued, be independent and maybe, “fly their nest”?
Recently one of our supported living residents expressed the desire to get married. In talking about his goal, we said let’s talk “typical”. How long have they been dating and how well do you get along? Are you good for each other? What’s the budget? Is there something we can help you acquire?” That sounds like family and friends talk. It sounds like everyday choice talk!
There will never be one way to live. Some of us will live alone, others with someone else. Some of us will work. Some of us will contribute to our world in a different way. We will all make choices. And whatever we do, we cannot take choices away. We need to reframe the issue of choice and make sure we are not still doing what we did before – taking away the possibilities, by drawing invisible lines. We need to remember what we were thinking when KenCrest was founded. We need to draw energy from all the good we do. Let’s use that fuel to make sure that we see choices and help the people we support and their families see those choices also.