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We all want meaningful, inclusive lives sustained by personal dignity

We all want meaningful, inclusive lives sustained by personal dignity

September 22, 2014

By Robert Lathers
CEO, Ionia County Community Mental Health Authority
Posted Sep. 22, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

On Oct. 31, 1963, John F. Kennedy signed his last bill as President of the United States. It was the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This act was landmark legislation and may well be President Kennedy's greatest legacy. What followed was a radical transformation of how persons with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses would be treated across the country. Michigan was and continues to be one of the forerunners in the movement.
Community Mental Health Agencies in Michigan were subsequently created in the 1960s to fundamentally "free" large numbers of Michigan citizens who had been trapped and virtually incarcerated in institutions and state hospitals for little more reason than they had developmental disabilities or chronic mental illness. These facilities kept them "safe" and "out of site." The marginalization and dehumanization of these individuals, who had done nothing to deserve such treatment, was just simply unjust and an over reach to deny their civil liberties.
Today, the purpose of the original act remains. Nationwide the demands for services and interventions have increased dramatically over the years. Ionia County CMH currently receives and spends almost $14 million a year, from federal, state and local sources to provide comprehensive services in an attempt to address the support and mental health needs of all Ionia County residents. Approximately 3,000 Ionia County residents a year receive services provided by more than 90 professional staff employed by Ionia County Community Mental Health Authority.
In the coming weeks, thanks to the Ionia Sentinel-Standard, we will be sharing greater details of what is being done to reach all of those who need assistance in living full lives in our community. In the end, however, it is the community itself that must develop the connections and sustain the practice of creating positive mental health and community inclusion.
In 1989, a group of parents in British Columbia, who had children with a disability, started an organization called Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN). Their goal was to ensure that their adult children would not be cast into institutional care as they outlived their parents. The parents agreed that four factors were necessary to ensure their children would have whole lives: "family and friends, financial security, a home that was a sanctuary and not a warehouse, and the ability to have one's wishes and choices respected."
The parents also discovered research that had been done which concluded that the safety and wellbeing of persons with a disability was not dependent upon the number of social workers, law enforcement officers, organizations' by-laws, operating agreements, payment structures, etc., but "Rather their safety was dependent upon the number of relationships the person had with others. The more relationships, the greater their safety. The fewer their relationships, the greater their vulnerability."
The PLAN's goal was to find ways to increase human networks and connections for each child as they moved into adulthood. Each of their children would have to be the center of their own network. By the mid-1990s, there were more than 50 individual networks, by 2003 there were 116 networks, each focusing on developing a fully integrated community life for the child involved.
Page 2 of 2 - In the end these are the kind of lives most parents want for their children, whether they have a disability or not, lives that are meaningful, inclusive and sustained by personal dignity. In the end this is the mission of Community Mental Health.
Robert Lathers has been the CEO of Ionia County Community Mental Health Authority since 2001. He has 40 years of experience in human services in both private and public agencies. Lathers is a Licensed Master Social Worker with Clinical and Administrative Certification. He is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University and is an adjunct professor at the GVSU Graduate School of Social Work.

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