The Consequential Role of Advocacy in Long-Term Care

Happy Fall, readers! I hope everyone is staying warm and cozy as we approach colder weather at this time of the year. Welcome to this week’s blogpost about delving deeper into the core of what a family council is, and why it is so integral in empowering and advocating for the rights of residents, family members and caregivers.

Prior to my placement here at FCO, I had a limited understanding of the concept of a family council in the context of the LTC industry, much less what it entails. As I am now over a month into my placement, I am taking this opportunity to reflect on my time here, and all the things I have learnt over the last month by being a placement student at this wonderful organization. More specifically, I want to talk about the importance of the advocacy performed by councils on behalf of all residents to make life in long-term care centers better for everyone involved.

Being a student of critical and transformative social work, I know that advocacy, community mobilization and empowerment of a service-user are key components of our practice. Furthermore, it is an established fact that social worker as a profession has a deeply colonial root, which often enables it to maintain the ongoing inequality and mistreatments of service users in the name of service. That is especially pronounced in the long-term care context, as residents and councils have an inherently unequal footing in the power dynamic, as long-term care social workers and management have the right with which to make life-altering decisions on behalf of residents without consulting them. This is concerning, as our Eurocentric views on aging compels us to categorize senior citizens as frail, dependent victims incapable of personal agency and self-determinism. This worldview, coupled with the establishment’s draconian style of management at many LTC centres, really robs our community of their dignity and right to make self-informed choices.

This is where family councils come in. One of the primary goals of a family council is to advocate to uphold the interests of residents and caregivers in a sometimes precarious situation. To advocate, in this context and most others, means to swim against the current. It takes a lot of labour, but it is essential, and we cannot afford to go without it.

As we have witnessed in the COVID-19 pandemic, the heartbreaking and ongoing number of casualties and the mental health toll it has taken on caregivers and everyone involved, we know that we have to strive to do better, to demand better treatment and access to services and resources all across the aisle. Our advocacy is needed not just on a micro-scale of improving culture and operation of a home, although that in itself is significant and non-negotiable in improving the quality of life of residents. We, as a collective, are needed in order to push for better funding and resources from the province. Family councils have always played a role in large-scale advocacy, and have persevered through decades of institutionalized neglect, broken promises and inaction. However, this time feels different. The pandemic presents a unique policy window, an opportunity to demand significant policy shifts which will serve our family members at present and years into the future.

I hope we can seize this moment, because the future of the long-term care sector in Ontario depends on it.

Author: F.T. (FCO Placement Student)