When the vulnerable population we serve was left behind, Safehaven stepped up as their advocates

Safehaven has been an advocate for children, youth and adults with complex care needs for decades. Many of these vulnerable individuals are forgotten about in society as they do not have a strong voice and remain invisible. We have worked to give a voice to the voiceless with our #WeBelong movement that started two years ago. This movement emphasizes how individuals living with medical complexities deserve to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion and create opportunities where, regardless of one’s abilities, they too can thrive and live a fulfilling life in the community.

Engaging with different types of advocacy is critical to Safehaven’s work to live our mission and accomplish key milestones in our strategic plan; this includes understanding systemic pressures within health and being responsive with our partners to revolutionize care to support the most vulnerable within our community. Our advocacy focuses on three areas:  the need for systemic change for individuals with medical complexities; advocating for individuals across several ministries and sectors for an integrated approach to care; and looking at opportunities for funding to innovate and change the system currently in place. 

Safehaven advocates for our clients socially and educationally, where we seek to inform the public and ensure our community supports our work with individuals living and thriving in the face of developmental disabilities and medically complex care needs. We aim to grow public awareness and understanding of what it is like to live with complex care needs, and how our clients are empowered to achieve their full potential and live meaningful lives. This means having a fully integrated system of care across sectors and the age continuum and ensuring everyone has a secure home where they are loved and cared for.

Taking what is at the root of our mission, which is building an inclusive community where everyone feels a sense of belonging, helped us pave the way to create our WeBelong movement a few years ago. Understanding the current gaps within our siloed system and creating innovative ways to ease the challenges of community-based care, we were able to create a foundation for change and integration. WeBelong allows for us to be a voice for our clients and the broader community emphasizing our clients are just like all of us who go to school; enjoy social and recreational activities like concerts, movies, skating, and we like to travel! Some of our clients recently participated in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon which was a great thing to see. At Safehaven, we advocate for them to be treated as equals who deserve to live in the same community and have the same opportunities as others. 

For Safehaven, WeBelong has taken on different shapes and forms. It is a universal, powerful statement and means something to everyone. It creates opportunities for us to emphasize the importance of these children and adults and share that they too are deserving of a meaningful life.

In the years before COVID-19, children with medical complexities were flying under the radar. There was little known about this small population. Their funding is fragmented and very difficult for families to manage and often consists of multiple buckets across different ministries, programs and departments. But when the pandemic hit, there was a lot of attention given to these most vulnerable children and young people in congregate care settings and the importance of keeping them safe as they had a higher risk of negative outcomes. At Safehaven, we had to advocate for our clients when they could not speak for themselves to ensure accessibility to vaccines and clinics that could accommodate their specialized needs.

While social advocacy to impact the conversation around people living with complex care needs is critical, it is just as critical to advocate with stakeholders who have a direct impact on our ability to continue caring for our clients. This includes other partners and organizations Safehaven works with, our donor network, and key political players at all levels of government. We have six sites across two regions and receive funding from two provincial ministries, so provincial policies and regulations have a significant impact on our operations. Ensuring Safehaven has and maintains strong relationships with officials at the provincial level so we can advocate for our clients is crucial. We are very fortunate to have wonderful local champions across the political spectrum who are huge supporters of Safehaven. 

We are always looking ahead at what more needs to be done to lead our health care system forward and transform it into one that breaks down barriers and perceptions. Our advocacy work is the foundation for change – building meaningful relationships with our community, partners and stakeholders; remaining resilient and innovative will continue to guide us and create the change we are working towards.