The DESSA LAC Project, Community Inclusion, Capacity & Connection: A Community Development Approach to Local Area Co-ordination
'The fundamental challenge to the success of this work is how we support individuals to move beyond being recipients of supports and services, beyond having a presence in their community to actively participating in their community and, if they so choose, contributing to their community.'
-- Alice Griffin DESSA Manager
Community Inclusion, Capacity & Connection: A Community Development Approach to Local Area Co-ordination was funded under Measure 5 of the Dormant Accounts Fund in 2015. The project took place over an 18 month period from January 2016 to June 2017.
The project has been hugely successful in creating real opportunities for social inclusion for individuals with disabilities and in building community capacity in County Leitrim. In particular, engagement with project partners including Leitrim Local Development Company and Leitrim Disability Equality Network (a user-led organisation established by DESSA) has led to the embedding of disability equality and social inclusion as a core remit of Leitrim local development agencies.
This is reflected in an increase in the numbers of people with disabilities accessing mainstream services and activities in Leitrim.
It is our opinion that a community development approach to Local Area Coordination, involving key agencies across community and disability services is the most effective and sustainable way of enabling people who experience disability live ordinary lives.
The LAC project seeks to support people to achieve, do and be in life in the ways they choose. It is about enabling and supporting people to move beyond having a presence in the community to actively participating in the community and developing leadership and collaborative roles. It is also about building the capacity of local community infrastructure.
The project entails the provision of community based support for people with disabilities, their families and the wider community by a Local Area Co-ordinator.
The project is embedded in mainstream community and provides opportunities for individuals and their families to live self-directed connected and fulfilling lives.
The project supports, enhances and compliments existing disability policy, specifically in relation to meaningful day service provision and de-congregation.
Underpinning this work is the assumption that people with disabilities and their families are best placed to make choices and decisions about their lives.
The role of the Local Area Co-ordinator is to develop an individualised approach to supporting individuals and families and includes:
- Providing information, advice and advocacy supports
- Assisting individuals to identify goals and empowering them to make informed choices
- Supporting individuals to develop natural networks and community connections
- Working with organisations and communities to build inclusive and welcoming communities
- Supporting individuals to access appropriate supports and services
- Supporting individuals to advocate for themselves and support others to self advocate
The impact of this project on individual LAC participants and mainstream community structures is enormous. For example, 5 LAC participants (across disability) were elected as officers to a local user-led disability forum, Leitrim Disability Network. These are now participating in Leitrim Local Authority Public Participation Network. 4 LAC participants completed the St. Angela's NUIG Access & 3rd-level Foundation Course in Sligo in April 2017 and two more participants have signed up for the course in September 2017. One LAC participant has become a youth leader with Carrick-on-Shannon Girl Guides.
These are just some examples of the impact participating in the LAC project has made to individuals living in Leitrim.
There has also been a marked increase in networking and collaboration between disability service providers and local community structures and the number of disabled adults participating in mainstream activities has increased.
Through the LAC project DESSA was able to facilitate a process of community engagement by educating the community & voluntary sector on disability policy, by linking service users to mainstream community services and by developing a planned process of engagement between community development organisations, disability service providers and the HSE. This is of particular relevance to the successful implementation of New Directions vis-a-vis the principle of community inclusion and de-congregation.