Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Making The Case For a Community Based System

During my Thanksgiving travels last week, my family and I found ourselves in a Midwestern state (which shall remain nameless) at a point where we had been driving too long, and needed to stop for the night. We spotted a hotel in a suburban area of a major city, and after checking in, decided to eat dinner at a chain restaurant located about 100 yards across the street from the hotel. We’d been driving all day, so we decided to just walk.

And there’s where we encountered a problem. The street we had to cross we pretty busy, and there was no good way to cross. Even at the closest intersection, there was no crosswalk, no cross signal, no real sidewalk, no nothing. It was as if the concept of a pedestrian just didn’t exist. We all felt like George Costanza trying to cross the street with his Frogger machine.

It made me appreciate the fact that I live in a community that actively embraces alternative methods of transportation.

So what does this have to do with the world of developmental disabilities? Well, it took me visiting a place that was so pedestrian unfriendly for me to realize how good I had it at home. And that started me thinking about community values and their importance. So many of us choose to live in communities because of what the community stands for. And that started me thinking about an aspect of the DD system in Colorado that perhaps we don’t give ourselves enough credit for: our unique, public/private community based system of services.

Many of Colorado’s organizations dedicated to providing services for individuals with developmental disabilities, including Imagine!, were started locally by family members who wanted their children to have the same opportunities to engage in the community as their friends’ and neighbors’ children had. Not surprisingly, the services that emerged reflected that local nature. These organizations may have grown and changed, but I think the fundamental philosophies of community based services remain. I also happen to think that is a good thing.

Anyone who lives in Colorado knows that the Boulder community and the Colorado Springs community are vastly different: different values, different attitudes, different outlooks. Because of the community based system of services we have in this state, those differences are reflected in the way services are provided to local citizens with developmental disabilities in Boulder and Colorado Springs. That seems to me to be to be a healthy approach that is good for the community and good for the individuals served.

I bring this up because we are at point where it is inevitable that the current system of service provision and delivery in Colorado will be questioned. If you read this blog you know that I am fully behind change, and I think everything we do needs to be examined to determine how to best meet the needs of those we serve in the context of severe restrictions on resources. During that process, however, I would urge us not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Let’s keep the philosophy that local communities are best able to determine how to protect their most vulnerable citizens.

While considering this modest proposal, ask yourself a few questions. Do you want a State regional system with a one-size-fits-all approach? Do you think the State is in a position to handle service provision? Should the State be involved in providing services at all? If not a State run system, then is there a model out there that will work better? Should providers be for profit or not for profit? Should advocacy groups be providing services? Where is the line that separates advocacy groups, services providers, and Community Centered Boards (CCBs)?

I don’t claim to have the answers to all these questions. But I do believe that our community based system is a good model that needs work. We should take the good parts and build on them as we re-imagine how we do business.

Then again, what do I know?

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