Ensuring a Home in Community

All / Saskatchewan

December 31, 2008

Deinstitutionalization and Ensuring a Home in the Community


The Community Living Plan: A Strategy for the Improvement of Community Living for People who are Mentally Retarded was adopted by the SACL Board in the spring of 1986 as a statement of direction and goals for the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living (SACL). The Plan, based on CACL’s initiative which included seven goals, SACL prioritized three:

  1. “Admissions to institutions will stop and reduction will proceed at ten percent per year based on 1986 populations.”
  2. “By 1992, all children will go to school together with other children in their neighbourhood and will get a program to match their needs in the regular school.”
  3. “The number of people in sheltered workshops will decrease by ten percent per year from the 1986 level as a result of becoming employed.”

Adopting these specific objectives caused excitement from families who wanted innovation and protest from those who had vested interest in the institutions and sheltered workshops.


President Norm Jones expected some opposition, especially in the area of deinstitutionalization, noting that parents had made decisions 30 years prior, but that was no reason to continue admitting people to institutions, and that SACL was not trying to close the institutions immediately. “The [SACL] is firm in its belief that people with mental handicaps should not have to live in large, segregated facilities which serve to isolate and remove people from the community.” Jones explained what the Association wanted in the area of inclusive education: “This means we are not only after physical integration, but for full participation in the school.” He emphasizes the need to provide leadership to educators to ensure all children develop to their fullest potential. In the area of employment, he emphasized that SACL believed that sheltered workshops have a place in the development of vocational services for people with disabilities, but new, meaningful alternatives must be found.


Looking back, the years 1986-88 were SACL’s years of living dangerously, boldly stepping out for human rights, challenging the status quo and expecting no less than full citizenship and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities, while building on the foundations of the past. President Norm Jones knew it was risky. “We may likely fall out of favour with some for our stands, but we believe that by truly involving people with handicaps in the mainstream of society, we’re nurturing a better world for everyone.”


At the 1987 AGM in Yorkton, Jones said “Sometimes I have heard people say that wanting a different future for my son and your children is a denial of the Association’s history and roots. I don’t see it that way. As I read the Community Living Plan, I perceive that our purpose has not been changed, only the battle lines…If we fail to act now, we will do a disservice to the founders of the Association and we will do a significant injustice to ourselves and our sons and daughters.”


The adoption of the Community Living Plan, the name change in 1988 and the closure of North Park Centre repositioned the Association as a voice for social change and human rights, led by families, building on a history of leadership in community development for people with intellectual disabilities.


1. North Park Centre

In a meeting with SACL Board members at April 1987AGM of the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, government officials posed the idea of closing North Park Centre. Deinstitutionalization was already an objective that the Association was pursuing, and closing North Park provided an opportunity to create new homes in the community for the 180 people living at the institution. The SACL Community Living Plan had been adopted in the spring on 1986 by the SACL Board, with one of the objectives to reduce the number of people living in institutions and “create and foster more choices…choices for people who wish to move from the institution to the community,” as Norm Jones, President of SACL described to the 1987 AGM attendees in Yorkton, SK.


At that meeting, SACL agreed to assist with the closure of North Park, and specifically committed to safeguard the quality of life of the residents, and employ staff to act as advocates and support the movement of people to the community.  Then, on May 19, 1987, Social Services Minister Grant Schmidt announced that North Park Centre would close its doors on February 1988. While the government’s motivation to close North Park was largely economic, as the two large institutions in the province had dwindling populations, it was an opportunity for the Association to ensure that homes were built in the community.


The initial reaction of the families and staff who were directly involved was to protest the closure and form an ad hoc group, Together for Equality and Residents Security (TEARS), to keep the institution open. Their lobby failed to overturn the decision, and planning to move people to community homes went ahead. Families were involved in the planning for each individual, and many who had been hesitant at first wrote into SACL’s Dialect magazine to describe how their fears gave way to optimism when they say their family member accepted in the community.


North Park was opened as the Saskatchewan Training School in 1961, and was known to have an older population than those living at Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw, increasing the need for planning and caution with finding homes for individuals. SACL took every opportunity to negotiate the building of new groups homes and community placements for individuals, to reduce the number of residents that would be transferred to Valley View Centre. The SACL Quality Assurance Program located volunteers in each community to welcome new residents, check in on and visit with individuals. 


Looking back on the closure, SACL Executive Director Wil Toombs explained what the Association had learned from the process:

1.      “Institutions housing people with [MR] can in fact be closed. The trauma of this change—while deeply felt by some workers and volunteers—does pass, giving way to a more reasoned, broader view of the positive impact of such a move on communities, on the service system, and on the residents.”

2.      “While the Association and government officials frequently debate—sometimes heatedly—the quality of a resident’s placement, such debate provides a stronger commitment and a greater determination by both parties to provide as high a quality of life for the resident as is possible.”

3.      ‘The volunteer in the local community remains the key to the success of integration.”


The closure of North Park Centre made community living a reality for many people, and created a legacy as the investment in creating homes in the community increased. It changed the future for people with intellectual disabilities, as the expectation of moving into a large institution became a thing of the past, replaced by the expectation of a supported life in the community.


2. Coming Home, Staying Home 

In February 1993, as part of the National Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities, the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living was the second province to sign a four-way partnership with the federal and provincial governments and with CACL to support people to leave institutions. Since the closure of North Park Centre in 1988, SACL had continued to support people moving to the community from the institution, and had received $50,000 from the Ministry of Social Services in 1991 to continue this important work.


The “Coming Home, Staying Home: Helping the Community to Respond” project earmarked $1.7 million to cover the costs of developing community supports for 30 individuals with challenging needs who were residing at Valley View Centre, the province’s only large institution for people with intellectual disabilities. SACL’s role was to act as an Advocate for the individuals who were moving to the community.


The Coming Home, Staying Home initiative was ambitious, in that the residents who moved to the community had a variety of complex needs. In preparation for the project, extensive research was done and innovative programming was created to individuals who had challenging sexual behaviours to live in the community.


Another are of innovation was the Legal Rights Research Team, which worked with the Coming Home, Staying Home project to develop strategies for supporting individuals’ decisions about where they wish to live and to define an alternative to guardianship and substitute decision making. The Supported Decision-Making Model that was developed is still considered a best practice for ensuring the right of persons with intellectual disabilities to make their own decisions, supported by those who know and love them. This research influenced the development of the Guardianship and Co-Decision Making Act in Saskatchewan, that provided a framework to legally recognize decision-making assistance.

Supported Decision-Making continues as a legacy of the Coming Home Staying Home initiative in Saskatchewan.


The enduring lessons from Coming Home, Staying Home were that families and advocates must be part of the planning process, that people with complex behaviours can be effectively supported in the community, and that everybody, no matter how they communicate, can be involved in making the decisions that affect their lives when support is offered.