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Empower Simcoe Is Supporting People To ‘Be, Belong, And Thrive’

By Michael Clausen

A few observations immediately come to mind when I reflect on my time with Empower Simcoe during their recent accreditation – a values-based organizational culture, a collaborative and inclusive spirit, and a relentless pledge to person-centered services. Those ideals are ingrained across their agency and embraced by everyone I encountered throughout the accreditation process. It really speaks to the organization’s decades-long pursuit of the highest level of quality in their supports.

For Empower Simcoe, the quality of their services is measured by the effect they have on the lives of the people who receive those services. The impact is clear. There are numerous stories about how Empower Simcoe supports people to “Be, Belong, and Thrive” – three words that drive the organization’s work. As you’ll read later, Empower Simcoe has really embedded person-centered philosophies and practices throughout their organization so that those three words can be realized for children, teens, adults, as well as their families in Barrie, Orillia, Bradford and surrounding townships around Simcoe County in Ontario, Canada.

“The achievement of another four years of Accreditation is a powerful motivator that the work we do, has an impact. It shows we really are helping people to Be, Belong, and Thrive.”

Claudine Cousins, CEO, Empower Simcoe

Empower Simcoe is an organization known for innovation and continuous learning. The organization is always willing to embrace new approaches in response to the changing needs of the people and communities they serve. Quality and accreditation are not one-time events that happen every four years: They are truly integrated into all of the organizations systems and values, and are part of everything that the organization does. This is an organization that is constantly moving forward.

About Empower Simcoe

Founded in 1953, Empower Simcoe was created by parents who were looking for an alternative to institutions for their children. Over the course of more than 60 years, the organization has greatly expanded its positive impact on people’s lives through the services it offers.

Empower Simcoe Logo

Today, Empower Simcoe supports more than 1,300 children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with its housing, community, and family services, as well as its youth programs and infant and child development programs.

CQL Accreditation Since 2007

The journey of organizational transformation through accreditation is nothing new for everyone from Empower Simcoe. They’ve achieved consecutive terms of CQL Accreditation since 2007. For over a decade, they have been using accreditation to identify and celebrate areas of success at their agency and address opportunities for improvement.

This commitment to improving the quality of services and the quality of life for people receiving those services continues to this day. On May 21, 2021, Empower Simcoe officially achieved CQL Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation. This is a notable accomplishment and all of us from CQL congratulate Empower Simcoe for attaining this internationally-recognized designation!

“Empower Simcoe is truly an elite organization that embodies the very best in human services. They have deeply-rooted person-centered philosophies that carry out into their actual practices. It’s having a demonstrable impact on people’s lives.”

Mary Kay Rizzolo, CQL President and CEO

At Empower Simcoe, quality is defined by the people and communities served by the organization. In that spirit, the organization facilitated a virtual stakeholder meeting to capture the perspectives of a cross-section of organizational members. The meeting began with a review of the organization’s strategic priorities and progress made towards previously selected Person-centered Excellence Goals. This group of stakeholders shared meaningful feedback regarding each of the eight Person-centered Excellence factors, and then selected the areas that they considered to be priorities. The group then broke out into virtual breakout rooms to collaborate on action steps to bring their goals into fruition.

Empower Simcoe’s Partnership With CQL

We wanted to find out more about Empower Simcoe, including insight into their goals, the effect of their services, and how accreditation has helped strengthen their systems and practices. To gain this perspective, we’ve asked Jacquie McKnight, Quality and Innovations Manager for Empower Simcoe, a series of questions about their organization and their partnership with CQL. Here is what Jacquie shared with us!

What are your goals as an organization?

Empower Simcoe believes that everyone should Be, Belong, and Thrive. This is the foundation for everything we do and built into our current strategic plan; continuing to push forward, being accountable to the people we support.

Our focus is to remove barriers that people may face and figure out what’s getting in the way. We continue to research innovative approaches to support each person with a focus on technology to support autonomy.

How have the Personal Outcome Measures® affected your organization?

The Personal Outcome Measures® were introduced here in 2000 and have been fundamental in shifting us to become person-centered, resulting in a strong culture of support versus “caring” for people.

The Personal Outcome Measures® has a direct impact on quality supports and improving people’s defined quality of life. We see it in the faces of the people and families we support every day. Our culture supports people and families to live their dreams. Each individual dream for the future leads us down a new and exciting path.

Person preparing food in their kitchen at home

It pushes us past health and safety – the focus of ministry compliance – to supporting all areas of a person life. The Personal Outcome Measures® enables us to see everyone as an individual and supports discussion on how the person is defining personal quality of life. Knowing this, we can then develop the supports needed.

We need to offer people many choices, help people experience options. Choice is not about this or that. We may think that a fruit bowl offers many choices, but it’s still all fruit. Throw in a chocolate bar or a bag of chips – now that’s choice.

How have you used Personal Outcome Measures® data?

We have been collecting and analyzing data for over 15 years and shaping our supports and services in response. Initially, our Personal Outcome Measures® data related to people exercise rights told us that people were in fact not exercising their rights! Taking a systemic approach, we were able to make changes to policy and practices which were in fact infringing on people rights.

As part of the data analysis, we can determine if the agency policy or practice is getting in the way of people realizing their goals and remove the identified barrier. Looking back, we can see the impact of identifying and removing barriers. We had a ‘no pet’ policy in 2000, but people wanted pets. We figured it out.

What is the impact of accreditation on your employees?

The accreditation process enables us to pause, reflect, and celebrate the hard work of our employees who are supporting people every day. It instills a sense of pride and rejuvenates our energy to continually move forward. We all have a common goal, which is to understand people’s definition of quality of life and shape services in response.

“I am excited about supporting people to experience different things within their community. The more experiences we participate in – it snowballs into other experiences, learning, and meeting new people. The possibilities are endless.”

Madeline, Direct Support Professional (DSP), Empower Simcoe

Our dedicated employees continue to be committed to supporting people and families to achieve their defined quality of life. Employees are rewarded each time people are successful, sharing in the celebrations. Employees see how their work with people each and every day impacts lives in such a positive way. This is motivation in its’ purest form!

CQL Accreditation provides tools and guidance to support the collection of data, which demonstrates and measures the impact of the quality of supports provided by employees. Evaluation by a third-party review provides employees validation and recognition of their hard work.

What is the impact of accreditation on your organization as a whole?

In 2007, the agency made the decision to pursue accreditation. There was no monetary benefit connected to achieving accreditation, but we knew it was the right thing to do! Accreditation shows all of our stakeholders that we walk the talk.

“Empower Simcoe is truly an inspiration to other organizations. This award recognizes that commitment and leadership to continual improvement for the benefit of those we serve.”

Deborah Wall-Armstrong, Board President, Empower Simcoe

We have embraced the Basic Assurances® and Shared Values ever since, with Personal Outcome Measures® being foundational to our supports. We credit our ongoing commitment to the Personal Outcome Measures®, Basic Assurances®, and the Shared Values to our agency’s strong culture of listening, learning, responding, and measuring.

Accreditation has helped to shape the supports and services we provide, continuing to be accountable to all of our stakeholders. It is this strong foundation that supports the agency to have clear and solid policies and practices over the past 14 years.

As an agency evolves and leaders come and go, this strong set of values and systems ensures that quality supports and services are unwavering. We are proud to say “Accredited since 2007.”

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Have questions about CQL Accreditation?

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.