A brief history of brokerage

Service brokerage has a commitment to a set of values emphasizing the worth and dignity of individuals with disabilites and their right to live in the community. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/toolsforpower/tools27.html

by Craig V. Shields, 1988


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According to one source, brokerage is an innovative demand-based approach to service delivery, which has its roots "in the growth of consumerism and the advent of constitutional rights". The term first came into usage in the late 1970's to refer to an approach being developed by a group of West Coast Canadian families "who believe that their severely disabled children should have the right to plan their own lives, and be given the opportunity and appropriate resources to do so".

The evolution of service brokerage as a concept began in early 1976 in Vancouver, British Columbia. A number of parents, whose sons and daughters had been institutionalized because of severe developmental handicaps, came together to share their frustrations about the current service system. Their interests at this stage were twofold: some parents were primarily interested in improving existing institutional services, while others were more interested in developing community alternatives to institutional placement. It was this latter interest that provided the stimulus for what would become service brokerage.

As these parents continued to meet, adding to their number as they went along, they began to identify a number of things that they felt needed to happen in order for their disabled children to successfully return to the community. A major concern was funding. Government dollars were flowed to agencies rather than individuals, limiting the responsiveness and accountability of service providers to consumers, and making it next to impossible to obtain services based on an individual's unique needs. Thus, "the notion of individualized funding emerged from a dream the parents had that funds could be aggregated and used flexibly to benefit each child, as his or her needs changed and grew".

Another major concern was the feeling of exhaustion that parents shared as a result of their efforts to find out about the system: how it worked, what services were available, their eligibility criteria, how to apply for them and so on. The parents realized they would need a resource to help them "sort out the patchwork of social services and obtain what was needed". And yet they did not want this resource to simply "take over", they wanted the right to be involved in planning decision-making, and they wanted the right to veto any plan that they felt to be inappropriate.

These different elements - individualized funding, a systems resource, and consumer involvement - became the core of a concept the parents began to refer to as 'service brokerage'. In the fall of 1976, the group developed a proposal for implementation of this concept which they submitted to William Vander Zalm, then Minister of Human Resources. The Minister's response was to agree to divert to the new program some funding that normally would have covered the costs associated with institutionalization. The parents then needed an organizational entity to receive funds and to help make cost-efficient decisions about what services to purchase. In 1978, therefore, they incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation under the name 'Community Living Society'.

In that same year, 1978, the first ten children were brought out of institutions into the new program, and service brokerage became a reality. The original concept has continued to evolve as experience has required. It also has been adopted and adapted, sometimes with significant variations, in other settings such as Calgary and Edmonton. While it is probably fair to say that there is no single, uniform approach to service brokerage, the different models are linked by a common commitment to a set of values emphasizing the worth and dignity of individuals with handicaps and their right to live in the community.

Service Brokerage For Persons With Disabilities In The Province Of Ontario, Prepared for Services For Disabled Persons Branch, M.C.S.S. by Craig Shields, Human Services Consultants, March 28 1988

Craig V. Shields, c/o Human Services Press, 
P.O. Box 421, Richmond Hills, ONT L4C 4Y8, Canada


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