Supporting Parents

The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. In Community Brokering, we support people to lead the lives they want to lead. Our focus is on the individual; however, we do not underestimate the important role that family members play in an individual successfully reaching his or her goals. We have learned that we must place value on developing relationships with the individual’s family.

In our experiences in working with individuals, we have seen how parents can influence an individual’s movement toward their goals both positively and negatively. Therefore, while we spend time getting to know an individual, we also invest time in getting to know key family members. We learn about their hopes and dreams for their adult child, we listen to their worries and concerns, and we respect the path they have traveled to support their child in getting to where he or she is today.

I have worked with more than one individual whose family members, out of genuine love and concern for the vulnerability of their child, have expressed hesitation, sometimes out right fear, about letting their child try new experiences in the community. They worry about their child’s physical and emotional well being. Is their child going to be welcomed by the community? Will he or she be respected and valued? Will they be taken advantage of or led astray? Will they be given a chance to learn from their mistakes and share their gifts with the community?

I have also worked with parents who are eager to see their child try new experiences, but they have been burned in the past. They have seen people underestimate their children. They have been disappointed by people and services that offered assistance and then didn’t follow through. They have felt alone and unsupported in their journey to help their child fully participate in his or her community. When first meeting us, they can come across as skeptical, sometimes even annoyed, as they try to learn about who we are and what we do through Community Brokering.

Parents are protectors, advocates, and cheerleaders. As such, they can be a brick wall to their child’s future goals, or the wind beneath their wings. So, when we meet family members who are not sure they support having their child try a new activity, we don’t throw our hands up in the air and tell them to call us when they change their minds. Rather, we recognize that this is where we need to slow down and listen. We need to hear what the parents have to say. We need to understand and respect the journey they have been on with their child. When they talk about how they have been disappointed by services in the past, we must show through our actions that we are committed to our mission. This doesn’t mean we are experts, or that we will have the solutions to the difficulties an individual faces. What it means is that we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We will meet the individual where he or she is at and together we will take the steps needed to move ahead. We will talk through how we can move the individual toward her goal, but support the parent in gaining trust and confidence.

This does not mean that we ignore the individual and let the parent’s call all the shots. We always remember that we are working for the individual. There are times when we need to push and challenge the parents, and we do. But, through Community Brokering, we are able to develop the relationships that allow us the opportunity to speak to a family. To be sure, this can be a slow process! Results don’t always happen in just a few months. However, when given the time to build trust, respect and communication, goals are achieved, dreams are realized and our communities are made stronger.