Sunday, December 30, 2007

Donna's Conversation

Damn you, Donna!

Just before going on Christmas break, I was having a conversation with Donna at work. She was telling me about an employee at Vita who has being doing well in our employ. She had come to the interview for the job well prepared and had impressed Donna throughout the interview with her perceptions and her attitude. At the end of the interview the typical 'last question' was asked. "Now do you have any questions for us?"

Here is where you expect to get questions about salary, about hours, about benefits, if you get any questions at all. This young woman looked thoughtful and then said, "Yes, I do have a question." Donna got ready in her mind the facts about our benefit package and the rest. But the woman threw her a curve, "Tell me why I should want to work at Vita."

As always my conversation with Donna was interupted at this point. I've yet to finish a conversation with her in fact. So I don't know what Donna said in response to this woman. But her question has been bouncing around in my brain over the holidays. I think it's a brilliant question. It is clearly understood why one would want to work in the field of disability, there are so many inherant rewards ... buy why for a particular agency. Why for me as a supervisor? Why for you as a Director? Why for us as a corporate entity?

Even though this is 'holiday time' this question has drawn me back to the computer a number of times. I've sat here and sketched out why I think someone would want to work for Vita, why they would want to give us their time, their committment, their patience. It's a very big question and one I've never asked myself in any serious way.

Yet I think it's important that we who are in positions of power within organizations, step back and ask ourselves what kind of organization are we. Surely we all have the same kind of vision for services to people with disabilties ... but who are we as employers, as managers, as directors? We know the damaging effect of heirarchies on the lives of those with disabilities, but what about the heirarchy of the agency - what does power do to us in relation, not to those in care but those who provide care.

In the dim recesses of my memory, I remember talking to a mother of a guy with a disability who was moving into a group home in an agency where I was the behaviour therapist. In the absence of the supervisor, I was asked to step in and give her a tour of the home and talk about the services provided and answer her questions as well as I could. One of her questions was, "Are the staff here happy in their jobs ...." and I blathered on and on about how wonderful the staff were, how committed they were. It was all true. But as I've thought about Donna's little story, I've remembered this conversation in a new light. This was a very bright mom who wanted to know if her child was going to be served by disgrunted employees of a disrespectful agency. I now understand the look of frustration in her eyes as I answered a question she didn't ask and didn't answer the question she did. (I have a habit of this.)

So, this is a discussion that I'd like to initiate next year. I'd like us to really think about this. Because that staff, that mom, are on to something big. Respecting those in care while disrespecting those who provide care can only lead to disaster.

So, Donna, if you are reading this, I'd like to know what you said. I'd like to talk about serving those who care as well as serving those who need care.

Maybe a change or two is needed.


Gis said...

Hi Dave,
I'm been reading your blog sense I saw you in Ottawa last fall. You were here for a conference on the "R" work. You talked about your work at "Vita" a few time. I have look on the Internet to get more informations. Did found nothing. What it is?
Sorry for the poor vocabulary and the "accent".

yatseq said...

I have just sent this post to the chief executive in my organization (I hope i didn't break copyright law - i gave the source :) )
I wonder if he can answer this question. I will also ask our service users. That will be good to compare the answers. Wanna bet who will be honest and more convincing?
Thank you
Happy, happy New Year

Anonymous said...

To Gis: You can check out Vita at I am hesitant in giving this out as the info on Vita is dated. We will be launching a new web site in the next couple of months dedicated just to Vita.
To Yatseq: We are having a one day retreat at Vita in January and plan to ask this question to our staff. Would be neat to compare answers! Happy New Year All, Manuela

Belinda said...

"Respecting those who care;" it's inseparable from "respecting those in care." Respect flows down, as surely as icy, pure water down a mountainside, filling every crevice it finds on its path.

Happy New Year to you, Manuela, and to fellow blogfollowers! We can learn much from Vita, and each other. Let the adventure of the year 2008 begin!

Shan said...

Man, this is so true. Having worked in a "poisoned" environment for quite a long time, I can attest to how important it is for the organisation to be healthy. And if it's important for a stupid government office, it's doubly so for a place that offers care to the disabled.

If I ever have another job interview, I'm asking that question!

Mieke said...

If any care giver might think one day,"I am only a care giver", he should correct himself by realising: "ONLY a care giver? Only a person who's performing the most beautiful and important task in the world??"
In other words, in my opinion care givers deserve all of our respect!

Linda said...

"Tell me why I should want to work at Vita."

That's fantastic. Good for her.

Casdok said...

As a mum who has also been looking for a home for my son who leaves school soon, that is the sort of question i asked. It is very revealing.
Happy new year!

Elizabeth McClung said...

"Surely we all have the same kind of vision for services to people with disabilties" - unless that is assumptive presumption of the innane superiority of the person being paid, silencing, containing, acting without oversight and in an environment where individuals will have more emotionally in common with an abuser of a person with disability than the abused - I seriously doubt that 'we all have the same kind of vision; - unless you see youself picking up where residential schools of years gone by left off. Because I can assure you; there may be many concerns with people employeed to work with people of disabilities, but I certainly wouldn't characterize them as universal.