| Mar 19, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - March 19, 2009 Community Living: Closing InstitutionsOn March 31st, the last institutions in Ontario which housed people with mental disabilities will be closing, marking the end of a political and social struggle that has taken almost a century to complete. But the struggle for recognition and acceptance continues with efforts towards integration and inclusion. The two articles printed below were submitted by Community Living North Frontenac to mark the formal closing of the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls and the other two remaining institutions in the Ontario.

Mural depicting the first 30 years of Community Living in North Frontenac

Community Living in Ontario

In May of 1839, legislation was created by the Ontario Government to build Ontario Lunatic Asylums.

In 1876, the first institution opened on the outskirts of Orillia. Back then, no differentiation was made between mental health and intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities were called feeble, morons, imbeciles and viewed as patients, not citizens. People who were different were thought of as menaces who contributed to the ills of society.

Therefore, the thinking was to separate them and control their effect on society. Doctors believed that people with an intellectual disability needed to be removed from the stresses and demands of everyday life. Families were strongly encouraged to place their loved ones in institutions where they would be cared for and protected at no cost to the family.

It was in the 1920's when the first talk's of returning intellectually disabled people to the community and providing them with educational opportunities took place. At that time people started noticing that there were more similarities than differences between the disabled and the non-disabled.

Eventually the terms mild mentally retarded, mentally defective or subnormal were used as labels to identify this section of the population. It was suggested that a gradual return back to the community occur by 1960. Ontario operated 16 institutions with more than 6000 people with an intellectual disability living in them at that time.

Community Living Ontario is an organization that was founded in 1953 by parents and family members who rejected the idea of institutionalizing their sons and daughters. These people fostered the idea of keeping the disabled person at home with their families.

By the mid 1960's Community Living called for an end to the institutionalization of people with an intellectual disability. The movement focused on the right of people of all abilities to live in their local communities and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

As the Community Living movement grew attitudes towards people with disabilities continued to evolve. Changes from a medical/institutional model of care to a community-based model of support was adopted and put into effect on April 1, 1974 with the introduction of the Developmental Services Act.

With that legislation the Ministry of Community and Social Services took over responsibilities for the care to approximately 8,000 people who were living in Ontario's institutions.

Between 1975 and 1986 community-based services for the intellectually disabled grew rapidly. Society's view of the disabled continued to evolve and softer labels such as developmentally handicapped or developmentally challenged were adopted.

Government investment on services in the community increased significantly, which enabled five of its residential institutions to close and supports in the community to grow to over 25,000 people.

In 1987, the Ontario government committed to closing the province's remaining facilities within 25 years.

This commitment has been supported by successive governments since then and by 2004 another six facilities closed and helped more than 6,000 people make successful transitions to community life.

In this province, Community Living Ontario and its affiliates have been a consistent and persistent voice working with the Government of Ontario to promote the closure of institutions.

On March 31, 2009 the last three remaining institutions will be closed and all people in Ontario with intellectual disabilities will enjoy life as full citizens in the community.

Community Living Associations and other agencies at the local level do much of the hard work of helping people with intellectual disabilities to live and participate in their communities’ life.

Community Living – North Frontenac

In the early 1970s families gathered in what is now Central Frontenac to discuss their common desire to have community based services for the children they chose not to put in institutions for the developmentally disabled.

Some of the founding members of Community Living - North Frontenac were Merv Rutherford, Donna Ladouceur, Wayne Robinson, and Helen Tryon. On August 30, 1976 the organization was incorporated under the name North Frontenac Association for the Developmentally Handicapped.

A few years later the organization bought the old grocery store in Mountain Grove and established ARC Industries as a sheltered day program/workshop and purchased a van to transport individuals to the Workshop daily.

Originally funded under the Rehabilitation Services Act operations at ARC Industries focused on establishing and running a woodshop, sewing & life skills areas where disabled individuals received a small pay for their work.

Under supervision the disabled produced a variety of marketable merchandise such as pillows, picnic tables, knitting baskets, foot stools, oven mitts, etc. As part of the rehabilitation effort each person attending ARC Industries had an Individual Program Plan established for them outlining focused goals related to their skill acquisition and development.

To enhance this process for several years the local adult literacy program was housed in ARC for workers to attend for periods of time throughout the day.

In 1981 North Frontenac Association for the Developmentally Handicapped opened the Sharbot Lake Residence, a group home for disabled adults. Residents came from institutions in Picton, Smiths Falls, Marmora as well as local families.

Those living at the Group Home attended ARC during the day and in the evenings and weekends they received 24 hour staff supervision and guidance. Residents learned life skills/did household chores such as cooking, laundry, and budgeting; had a gym night at the local High School; explored hobbies and participated in community activities such as Summerfest, dances, etc.

By 1986 basic association services were well established and funding was secured to establish a core administration for the Association to manage future service expansion.

The 1st Executive Director was hired Paul Melcher. He, with the program supervisors, became the organization's Management Team that oversaw the programs and front line employees. Vocationally, although the focus continued on the production of products and attending local and regional craft sales negotiations occurred with the Ministry to change the program funding to the developmental Services Act allowing more latitude in services provided. It was around the time that ARC Industries received an Innovative Award for it's newly formed Cottage Industries.

Towards the late 1980's there was an increasing realization that ARC programs were not meeting the changing needs of the individuals These needs were based on an aging population, competitive employment, basic life skills, medical needs.

Following some staff training immediate implementation of a new more individualized planning process, began in 1989. With less focus on a person's skill deficits and a greater focus on every aspect of a person's life a true recognition of each person's desire began to immerge.

Listening to the desires of each person receiving services provided feedback to the organization. Two individuals living at the group home identified that they wanted to move into their own apartments. They had become involved in local clubs, made friends and wanted to remain living here.

This challenged both the agency and the community to change the way individuals with disabilities were viewed. Within a year a third person's individualized planning was completed and the gentleman also moved to the apartment building. At that time there was a greater realization across the organization that the agency focus had to change.

The 1990's marked significant change for North Frontenac Association for the Developmentally Handicapped including a dramatic change of name. The organizations name was changed to Community Living - North Frontenac to reflect the greater involvement of services provision in the community. In 1991 a one year Trillium Grant was obtained to hire a Family Support Worker for a one-year pilot project to support families in their homes and children in schools.

MCSS funding changed from Homes for Retarded Persons Act to the Developmental Services Act.

In 1993 the organization had a change in Executive Directors and Don Nielsen was welcomed to the agency. In 1994 the organization rented the old gas station (comer of hwy 7 & 38) and brought all organization employees (former residential and day services) together under one roof. Soon after the ARC building closed and after the brief lapse in children services in 1994 a part time Family Support Worker was hired and Children's Services was established as a permanent part of Community Living's services.

Changes have continued to occur as services evolved with each passing year. As the result in Ministry cutbacks, there was a reduction in management positions and the creation of a position to focus solely on the facilitation of life planning with individuals being supported. The creation of this role enabled planning to begin earlier in life with a youths’ transition from school based activities into post school-community based life.

The formation of a Young Adult group helped guide this new service initiative. Services for aging parents also began with the focus on planning for their son or daughter's life when they are no longer able to support them. Plans are encouraged for what will happen when the aging parents are ill, no longer able to support them and even after their death.

In the year 2000 Community living - North Frontenac purchased and moved into a building in the Sharbot Lake village and Children's Services continued to expanded with the partially integrated summer camp at Circle Square Ranch.

Efforts to become more consumers responsive continued with staff training regarding an even more person focused planning called Personal Outcome Measures. In this model staff become agents of inquiry asking individuals supported questions on an ongoing basis regarding their needs and wants, hopes and dreams for future, degree of satisfaction, identify barriers, etc. This led to the Association to a new focus on a community integration and inclusion.

This has continued to the present day with more and more people taking on valued roles in their communities. People have jobs, volunteer their time in areas of interest, are involved in their local churches and many other mainstream community activities.

The Association will continue to evolve over the years and continue to provide much needed supported to individuals and their families in the Central and North Frontenac communities. 

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