Serving Vulnerable Community Members: The Need for Multi Sector Collaboration

Providing services and supports to our communities’ most vulnerable people is highly complex.

Client populations overlap the mandates of many agencies and Ministries, as risk or vulnerability in one area is a strong predictor for risk or vulnerability in other areas.   

For example, people diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD) may receive supports from Community Living BC, the provincial crown corporation that funds supports and services to adults with developmental disabilities. A disproportionately high number of people with FASD are also diagnosed with a mental illness, which may require resources and support from health agencies and service providers.

They are also 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than the general population, requiring involvement and support from the criminal justice system and associated non-profit organizations. People with FASD may also face challenges in finding and maintaining employment, and thus may seek out supports from a variety of government or non-profit employment programs as a result.

This is to say that individuals with complex needs often require services and support from a wide range of government departments and ministries, as well as non-profit organizations that offer community-based supports. And the coordination between these stakeholders is key to successful service delivery.

We can no longer achieve outcomes in isolation, but rather, in partnership and collaboration.”

– Jen, Our Director of Community Living Services

One of the programs delivered through our Community Living Services is a particularly noteworthy example of multi-sector collaboration, and that program is Willow Place.

Willow Place is a collaborative community support program that assists women with FASD. The program uses a coordinated approach to better understand and improve the quality of life of women with FASD in their home and in the community, through the provision of meaningful housing and support.

“It’s one of the first programs in BC to implement this collaborative approach” says Jen, our Community Living Services Director, whose team oversees the program.

It’s also being looked at as a model of care that should be replicated, both here in BC and elsewhere in the country.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning, because as Jen says, “if you don’t know the journey, you’re not going to understand why it’s talked about so widely.”

It all started with a concerned father that saw systems of care failing to adequately support his daughter, who had an FASD diagnosis.

“When you’re working with a population that has very specialized unique needs, they can require multiple sectors, whether that be mental health and addictions, corrections, health, housing, Community Living BC,” says Jen.

Before Willow Place, service providers were working to support the individual largely in isolation using traditional models of care.  The individual was experiencing multiple complex challenges, such as active addictions, homelessness, other health complications.

“There were no services out there that understood FASD. And he basically felt like he was hanging on the edge waiting for his daughter to die.” – Jen

Eager to get his daughter the support that she needed, the father advocated in every way that he could, which led a range of stakeholders to come to the table to discuss how they could coordinate services to better support her as well as other people with FASD within the community facing complex barriers.

That’s how Willow Place was born.

The community support program is a coordinated effort between the JHSLM, Community Living BC, BC Housing, Fraser Health, family members of the women being supported through the program, and an FASD consultant that works with the JHSLM team on a regular basis to move us towards a FASD-informed model of care as best as possible.

“We couldn’t have done it without the families [of the women being supported through the program]. They really supported us in bridging gaps.” – Jen

Through this coordinated effort, we have seen enormous success in the lives of the people being served through the program. The women living at Willow Place are now sober and working towards ambitious goals for their lives.

We’ve been able to work through the symptoms of FASD… like substance misuse, experiences of being exploited, mental health issues… and now, all you see is the cause of all that: FASD itself. We’re now working on supporting them to build routines, like employment and physical exercise. That’s the hard part.”

– Jen, Our Director of Community Living Services

Jen emphasizes that, “if our common goal is the person that we’re looking to support, which should always be at the centre, then we need to work with others to accomplish that. We need to work with people to put that person in the centre and to support them.”

Multi sector collaboration is a critical piece of being person-centered, and is central to assisting people with complex barriers.

This post is a part of a featured series celebrating John Howard Society Week 2020, an annual campaign that spreads awareness of the incredible work being carried out by John Howard Societies across Canada. To learn more about the JHS across the country, click here.