Wraparound is not a program or a type of service. It is a community process. The Process is a way to improve the lives of children and families who have complex needs. It is used to assist children and families and communities in developing individualized plans of care to assist and support children/families in their community. Planning, services and supports, cuts across traditional agency boundaries by multi-agency involvement, funding and informal resources.Still more jargon, I know, but it can be hard to explain. So here I am, a professional in the same system I am being served by. The expectation then, is that I can run my own meetings, as I have for so many other people.
The expectation is wrong, and that is where the advocacy piece comes in. If I am facilitating a meeting, I am in a completely different head space than if I am a family member with a personal stake in the outcome of the meeting. I am concerned about reaching consensus, everyone being heard, and making sure that things go smoothly procedurally, so work can get done. As a parent, however, I am concerned about one thing: making sure my child is getting the care that he needs in my view.
I cannot, and will not, be in the best place to then facilitate. I am in a crisis situation, or we wouldn't be here. I am tired, burned out and emotional. I am frustrated. And I am not ready to be fair and impartial.
This is where advocacy comes in. An advocate, in the way we are now using the word, is a change agent. It is a person to come in and hold my hand and create change in my life for the better. It is a person to see the situation from the outside, help me label the needs of the situation, and identify the strengths that will help overcome it.
A friend who is high up in the system, and quite able to advocate for herself, was describing a situation with her daughter. I was listening to her describe the difficulties, and was able to synthesize the point she was trying to make. She looked at me and said "Maybe, next time, you can come with me and help me tell them."
That is the point. The most intelligent people I know can be at a loss for words to describe an emotional situation, especially when the situation is ongoing and they are still in the middle of it.
An advocate doesn't have to be a professional, and it doesn't have to be a friend or family member. It is someone who can come in, evaluate the situation, and help access the needed supports when you are too flippin tired/hurting/overwhelmed/just plain burned out to.
But that is not all. It needs to be someone who understands the situation intuitively. When you are in that place in which you need help, you cannot always articulate the issues. So an advocate needs to have been there themselves, or be one of those people with natural empathy that can stand in your shoes for a moment.
This is the business I am in. Our slogan is Parents Supporting Parents for a reason. Our organization is in the business of doing advocacy in all shapes and sizes. But only now are we daring to call it that.
And, I am a parent advocate. I am proud of that and will say it loudly. Now, who will be my advocate?