It takes a community

When my dad was diagnosed with younger onset dementia he was too young to fit in the aged care system, yet his illness was classified as an ageing disease, not a disability so he didn’t fit in that box either.

This lack of fit is something that everyday folks experience every, single day. For carers it means that we need to scale up our skills in negotiation, creative thinking and general demanding very, very quickly.

Despite my career which largely involved navigating systems, in this time I learned that sometimes there is no right nor wrong, there is just a choice of best available option.

I cannot even begin to describe to you how much the ‘best available option’ hurts when you are the bearer of such news.

In this time I truly experienced the fact that systems can really suck, particularly when viewed through a single silo or lens.

Throughout my career I’ve had the privilege to work in the corporate world, in government land, and in the not for profit sector. Something that never ceases to amaze me is the sheer lack of connection between these sectors. If I was an artist I’d be tempted to draw four discrete silos (community, business, not for profit and government), each blowing their own share of smoke, but separate disjointed, no logical connection.

Imagine this… there are well-intentioned community services working their hearts out to deliver every service you can possibly imagine – and there are people who need the services that didn’t know the service existed. There are policy writers doing their damdest to make sense of cock-eyed laws, political persuasions and popular trends who want to do great things for people who need it most. There are small businesses trying to put food on the families table struggling to understand the latest compliance measures, and there are people in community just waiting to catch the falling pieces, and they often do, until they can’t.

What’s wrong with us?

They say it takes a community to raise a child – actually I believe it takes a community to do anything, the problem is that it appears we have forgotten to collectivise as such. Don’t believe me? Think for a moment about how connected you are within your community, with your local not for profits, with your business community and with the governments that are making decisions for you…

Really, think about that.

Back to my dad. In the early days I was wholly in charge of his care plan. With no aged care experience I did what anyone in my position would do. I thought of him as a person.

I thought about how I could connect him with his community and worked out weekly lawn bowls would work. With some level of education about the fact he no longer remembered what a ‘shout’ was, the blokes did a pretty good job. I engaged the business community in the form of transport to and from (so I could still work while the plan played out), I engaged the not for profit accommodation in which dad was staying at this stage to make sure he left and returned as planned and then I sought out government support which came in the form of an ill fitted set of options, yet a set that I was happy to accept.

This ‘fourth sector approach’ got me through one of the phases of caring and dad really looked forward to his weekly bowls.

Applying this thinking on a broader scale I often despair when I see excellent not for profits desperately trying to engage government services (e.g. schools) in partnerships knowing that they fill gaps that schools never can nor will, and seeing cohorts of students fail because x just didn’t quite reach y.

Sadness quickly turns to anger as I see institutions refuse to find ways around red tape to access support because it means that KPI a,b, or c may not quite add up.

So, if you are in a position of responsibility here is my plea to you:

  1. Know your service network, or at least know someone who does. Help for you – or your cohort is only moments away and the more we can empower this help together, the more viable and robust the people who have the skills to provide support will be. This is as relevant in public systems as it is in business. Did you notice your employee has difficulties with math? Who do you call? Or perhaps someone is having a tough time at work. Learn that network.
  2. Don’t be afraid to offer appropriate connections. Even though workforce laws can be a minefield, find a way to gently integrate connections to appropriate services – poster on the toilet door? Workforce workshop? Stack of business cards lying about? There are ways.
  3. Stop trying to be the Absolutely Authority on Everything. It’s OK to admit you don’t know, it’s OK to bring in others for support, it’s OK to refer support.
  4. Make support normal. We are living in difficult times and the sooner we stop admitting it’s all ‘peachy’ and just about to return to normal the better. There aren’t actually many humans that are 100% OK right now. And that is SO OK. We need to make it normal to ask for and receive support. It’s OK. You can still be resilient AND get assistance.
  5. Deal with intent over language. People say all kinds of things when they are hurting. The most important thing for you to do in these times is to understand where they are coming from, to empathise, not to hear the words that attack your ego. At the pointy end of a carers journey intent is always so much more important than the words.
  6. Share connections and contacts. One stop shops are a great notion – but only if they are resourced as an entire community. Please stop holding onto clients and/or cohorts because your service (or school) will lose funding if you let them go.
  7. Build your community and teach others how to too. Swing open the doors (by all means use a sign in book). The more open you truly are, the more you demonstrate so – the more you stop talking and start acting… the more they will come.
  8. Say yes. Maybe not in a ‘year of yes’ kind of way (or maybe so). But just try a bit of “YES’ing” when your next impulse is a big fat NO WAY.
  9. Know that it’s not easy. Cultural change never is, nor is red tape. Think every single time of that vulnerable person that touched your heart. Think of that one simple thing you did that turned their entire life around. That. And on the days that aren’t easy take yourself there. Every time you say “stuff you, not easy” you say yes to changing one person’s life, and probably a whole lot more that know and love them too.

Need some ideas about how to plug in to your community? Other than following this feed (I can assure you there are many more posts on the way), don’t hesitate to send a message – chances are if I don’t know, someone I know will.

Please take good care of you and yours, these are challenging times.

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