Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Individualized and Systemwide

I recently attended a small conference featuring Michael Smull on providing services using client-centered thinking (Thanks ELARC, SGPRC and Yvette.) Brer Michael made the point that the client-centered thinking that happens in our system largely occurs in spite of the design of the overall system. If we want the client-centered results we all say we want (at least in public) it's necessary to recognize how many ways our system is designed to prevent that from happening.

You can see it in so many practices, regulations, habits and behaviors. I was recently at an ILS conference at which a Quality Assurance specialist stated that everything's client-centered at his regional center, but that QA is really between the agency and the regional center.

The problem is, after the system was designed to maximize individualism, 30 years ago, traditional bureaucracy has been reasserting itself. That's not always a bad thing, but if unchallenged it certainly promotes standardization which is the opposite of individualization. In 2004 and from my broadening chair, it's not clear how much ours is even a community-based system. Regional Centers are so heavily regulated and so lightly monitored that it can be hard to tell sometimes whether innovation, creative problem-solving or the impact of local culture are more or less prevalent than in a state-run system. Several Regional Centers are in open warfare against client-centered alternatives to site-based standardized services.

My curmudgeonly opinion is that a rigorous, client-centered plan means exactly nothing when so many greater forces call for standardized thinking once the plan's been written. At an intuitive level, client-centered thinking may be the opposite of systemic thinking but I suspect the two depend on each other. Incremental solutions seem analogous to client-centered ones, but I suspect there is little that can be done at the client's, agency's or regional center's level that isn't undone by the standardized framework of the system.

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