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Deinstitutionalization, Community Commentary - Debbie Dandy

In our final week of this 12 week series of long form blog posts titled: "Deinstitutionalization, Community Commentary", we have a piece by Debbie Dandy titled: “Where Do Dreams Come From?”

Debby worked as a Case Manager and Program Manager for Family Services and Labour for 34 years in the Westman Region of Manitoba. During her time with Family Services she was actively involved in the closure of Pelican Lake Centre and a lead with the transition team supporting people to leave Manitoba Developmental Centre. She is currently working for a private agency as a staff training and development coordinator and is the President of Community Living Brandon.

We want to encourage you to comment on this and all the posts in this long form blog series. Comment and share with others lets create a national dialogue on this subject and get people talking.

If you have missed any of these commentaries, would to re-read them off line or just have them all in one place you can download the issue of Institution Watch that these were originally published in.

Where Do Dreams Come From?

Debbie Dandy

Debbie DandyI was privileged to be part of the Family Services team which supported the transition of 69 individuals from a small institution, the Pelican Lake Center, in 1999 when it was closed. This center closed for many reasons, but it would be inaccurate to say that the Government of the day was motivated by the principles of inclusion. I was involved again in supporting transition when the Manitoba Government initiated a downsizing of the Manitoba Developmental Center about ten years later, following a Human Rights complaint.

The transition of individuals to the community always begins with a plan for their life in their new home. Asking individuals who have never lived in a normal environment what their hopes and dreams for the future are is like asking me what the best exotic holiday location is! Without any experience, I am unable to make any choice except one that includes those things I already know. The plans which were developed with individuals, most of whom had no family involvement or at least no family who knew them well, were the sparsest planning reports I have ever been involved with. And the community experiences we provided to assist in decision-making about how life might be lived upon leaving the center, were out of context and foreign. The choices we could be sure of were that people enjoyed going for coffee, listening to music, crafts, spectator sports, bowling, etc. These were the choices which they had opportunity to experience at their institutional homes.

We know that the most important need of individuals supported in the community is for relationships. The idea of friendships, of people present in one’s life because they want to be, not because they are paid to be, is one that institutions may understand but find impossible to implement. The policies and structure of institutional life makes developing friendships for people outside of institutional walls a challenge. When people say that they enjoy going for coffee, it is the experience of drinking a cup of coffee in a busy social setting away from their usual living area that they are referring to, not having a social time with a friend. Their activities are organized by staff and attended by other residents not of their choosing. The dream of developing real friendships and participation in a natural social community is not a choice that people understand when they leave an institution, but one that we put forward for them as they begin a new lifestyle in a new home.

Down the road from the Pelican Lake Center, a previous resident lives in a small farmhouse. He had lived in a group setting, but it was difficult. He was disruptive to others, and they were actually afraid of his activity level. He had trouble controlling his actions, and things tended to get broken. One of the staff in the home lived on a nearby farm, her kids grown, and she and her husband decided that they would become his caregivers. Today, this man is a part of the rural community - he accompanies the husband when he hauls grain, knows all the farmers who gather in the local common places to talk farming, travels to Brandon with livestock, and enjoys getting out on the farm equipment. When he goes to the restaurant sheep were likely to poke their heads in the window to see what he was up to. He has led those sheep in the fair parades in town, alongside other community members riding horses and bikes, and driving old tractors. And last year, his support providers used all their Air Miles to travel, amazingly, by plane, to Edmonton, so he could visit a brother that he has not seen since he was a child. It is clear to all that these are more than caregivers, they have become his family, and that he is part of the community that surrounds him.

On the Labor Day weekend I was out to the community near where the institution was. A woman I know had searched for a house suitable for sharing with a person who needed support. It is a great country house, in the middle of nowhere! Together, they had invited friends out for a huge barbecue and party. There were people who had lived for 25 years at Pelican Lake; some support staff; they had invited friends from work – her work, and his work at the workshop in Brandon; other friends from the local community; and a couple of farmers strolled in when a sprinkle of rain shut down their combines. There were some kids getting everyone wet as they splashed in a big pool set up. A slip’n’slide was set up down the hill. I visited with one of the guys from the workshop. He is confined to a wheelchair, and needed his communication board to communicate. He invited me to his wedding. I have known the bride for years, and it should be exciting. When the food was ready, Lorna coached her co-host as he yelled: “It’s time to eat”. Then he said grace.

I do staff training now, and talk about how the most important thing that staff has to understand: that every single day they need to be assisting people to be in active relationship, participating in their community. Those individuals who left the protected setting of the institution 14 years ago could not have said that one of their dreams for the future was to have friends, go to picnics, and have some laughs. They could not tell us many hopes or dreams for their future - you must have experiences from which to make choices and dream dreams. Institutionalization has denied so many people experiences from which they can make choices and dream dreams - that is the injustice of living in the institution. What a loss for them to be denied the experiences from which dreams for the future are made. The future most have found is good, and there are some natural friendships present, but they shouldn’t have to wait so long to find out what the possibilities are, and what community feels like.



This is good for the people who left that institutional setting 14 years ago but I didn't find any support at all from CLBC to help me locate my son to a place of his own four years ago.

It's almost as if they threw away the baby with the bath water. Sure it's a great idea to move people to a more homey environment then institutionalize them. I don't want my son in an institution. But if the time wasn't taken to ensure a process for long term living to be found for these people then removing the institutions has pretty much left them out in the cold.

When I approached them for help and suggestions, all they could tell me was they no longer owned any houses or knew of any alternatives and maybe I should try and find an apartment at a reasonable rate.

I feel like I'm left to my own devices and not sure what the local office has to offer me.