from our agency director
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could just start by acknowledging we all suck at parenting?” That’s the question posed by Dr. David McConnell, a University of Alberta expert in parenting with a developmental disability. We all respond to that question with a knowing chuckle – parenting is hard and none of us gets it right all the time.
But parents with a cognitive challenge are often judged more harshly. Connections has advocated for a parent who was criticized for putting a boy’s ‘Pull-Up’ diaper on a girl. Teachers will phone Child and Family Services to report a parent who sends a child to school with an unconventional lunch.
Connections advocates and provides parenting support to families who often have no one to turn to for support or advice. Parenting classes and parenting books don’t work for them. Most often when we meet parents, their confidence is shaken because their parenting is being judged and they have the added stresses of living in poverty, in isolation because of the stigma of their disability and very often, with little experience of a good, stable home.
Lucky for Connections, these are parents who are extremely motivated – they love their children and they want to be the best parents they can be. They’re resourceful, resilient and it doesn’t take much in supports from us for them to be successful.
The changes we see are staggering. When we give some encouragement, point out their strengths and the things they do really well, and help resolve the most immediate crises, the parent-child bond can flourish. Imagine how difficult it would be to build an emotional bond with a baby if you were just days from having your baby taken away? These families are in a completely unfair and traumatic situation.
From poor outcomes and the cost of foster care to the expense of court procedures, breaking families apart is not a good option. Helping parents be successful is far better for the community.
Connections continues to grow and realize incredible outcomes for the families we support. Yet families are caught in policy gaps between the artificial line that is the criteria to receive longer-term disability support and crisis-oriented, short-term supports from children’s services. Minimal, but consistent and long-term, supports are what work, saving thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Policy changes in Alberta are a good news/bad news story for Connections. We are excited to hear the language change towards supporting families and helping families stay together. This is radically different and truly music to our ears.
Other changes add tremendous cost burdens. Connections started with no funding and three people around a kitchen table. Today, legislation and policy require Connections to fund the costs of outcomes and other funder reporting, insurance for workers, directors and the agency, audit, IT, accreditation, and mileage to get to families’ houses. There are also the costs any organization has -- non- and for-profit alike – like office rent, phones, and office supplies. It’s a long list, yet we operate so that front-line programs are 85 percent of our costs.
In 2013, 91 families were supported for less than $10,000 per year per family. Knowing the highly capable people on the Connections’ team and the quality of support we provide, this is a tremendous value for the community. But the reality is that we aren’t supported to this level and we continue to have a waiting list of 10 to 20 families. We also continue to be the only agency in Alberta specializing in supporting these parents.
We hope to build support so that we achieve two goals: 1. To continue to help the families who need us with the consistent support they need to be successful parents and 2. To add to the capacity throughout Alberta by sharing our experience, expertise and resources we’ve developed.
We are greatful to our many partners and supporters, in the Alberta government and in the community, who believe in the importance of family and in protecting individuals’ rights.
We look to a future where people who choose to be parents, even if they have a disability, have that opportunity. And when they become parents, they’ll find parenting really hard. Not because of their disability, but because parenting is hard for all of us. Let’s be a community that supports each other to be the best parents we can be.
Erin Waite, Agency Director