I first met Patricia Franks when I was covering the Town of Caledon Council meeting on September 12, 2017. She was making a presentation to Council as the Chair of the Caledon Area Families for Inclusion (CAFFI). It was a brief, heartfelt, and eye-opening presentation.
Patricia, a long-time resident of Bolton, was not there for herself, but for the children and families who live every day with the challenges of providing for special needs children in our community. She was asking Council for support for the Caledon Housing Initiative, a project that would provide appropriate housing for the now-adult children of these families. It was an education for everyone in the Council Chambers that evening.
Few of us had ever thought about what happens to our special needs children when they grow up. When they are young there are numerous support services to help cope with the developmental delays that affect their intellectual, social, emotional and physical abilities. But once they age out of school programs, some more adequate than others, what next? When they age out of sports programs, some more inclusive than others, where do these young adults go for recreation? Where will they go for entertainment, employment, and housing?
When family members move away and parents age and pass on, who provides the special care and understanding? Will we have successfully integrated them into our community, or will we leave them isolated and sympathetically shunned? These are the questions and concerns that Patricia brought to Council that day, and the Town got the message.
Following that meeting, a few weeks ago, I sat down with Patricia Franks at her home for an interview. By the time we finished two heartfelt hours later, I felt like I had become a member of the family. I received valuable insight into the love and expense and exhaustion that a family goes through when trying to meet the needs of a developmentally delayed family member.
Besides dealing with the daily demands of child care, add in the stress of dealing with a bureaucracy, from school boards to provincial ministries that make you fight tooth and nail for every inch of special education, inclusion, and medical assistance. And once you have nurtured your child to adulthood, what then as all the “special” programs fade away?
If you have raised your family and sent them out into the world, you know the relief the empty nest. If, like mine they are off around the world, you go through the normal parental worries: is the Vancouver family safe from the Big Earthquake? is the California family safe from wildfires? is the Qatar family safe from Saudi Arabia? And is the last “baby” out of the nest safe away at University?
But unlike Patricia Franks, I don’t have to worry about my children’s day to day safety as well as housing and education and recreation and medical care. I don’t have to worry if they will find satisfying employment and a living wage. Patricia does, and that is why CAFFI is so critically important to her, and should be for the rest of our Caledon community.
It is said one can measure of the quality of life in a community by seeing how well it cares for those most in need.
The Caledon Housing Initiative that was approved by the Town of Caledon on September 26, 2017 is one way of ensuring that our special young adults will have the adequate safe housing and transportation they need as their families age up and onwards. Then we need our Recreation Departments and our business and industry to step up and ensure that there is supportive employment, as Bolton’s Giant Tiger and SportChek have done.
We need more partnerships like those between the Town and the TRCA to look for suitable locations for that assisted housing, and we need developers and builders who are willing to give just a little back to the community to help those most in need.
That is what I learned in my interview with Patricia Franks. And then I went home and sent a long email to my children to remind them how lucky we were.
My father, wise storyteller that he was, always said the same thing to me whenever I used to complain about how hard done by I was. “Yes,” he would say, “I used to complain about how tight my shoes were until I met a man who had no feet.”
Time to pay it forward Caledon.