Implementing an Equity-based Framework within Organizations

Organizations can begin implementing an anti-oppressive framework by identifying guiding principles.  Furthermore, (Nzira & Williams, 2009) provide a clear achievable list in terms of what principles an agency should consider within their framework:

  • Respect and welcome diversity within the work place
  • Identify stereotypes and prejudices through gaining accurate knowledge of people or groups that differ from us in some aspect of identity
  • Commitment to use power and privilege to benefit others
  • Work to achieve communality, sharing and equality amongst others
  • Be aware of negative aspects of the culture and structures of the society in which we live, and try to counteract them and change them
  • Recognize the pervasiveness and seriousness of oppression in the world, and commit to ourselves to positive action to remedy and prevent it
  • Study first-hand accounts by those who experience oppression to understand its reality, nature and prevalence, and to gain authentic knowledge for tackling it (Nzira & Williams, 2009).

On a structural level, it is important to consider and develop strategies to address key practice areas in an AO framework.  These practice areas include: empowerment, education, building alliance, language, alternative healing strategies, advocacy, social justice/activism, and fostering reflexivity.

Key practice areas:

Empowerment Involve service users in decisions that concern their care, from a family level to within the institutions within the organization.  Family-centered practice is a step towards creating an environment where service users feel empowered in their own experiences.

  • In empowerment practices, service users are involved in all decisions which impact them. This include: programs, policies and agenda setting within the organization (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
  • Includes the views of the families and whom they wish to be included in the process (Burke & Harrison, 2002).
  • Use a multidimensional change strategies which incorporate the concepts of networking, service user involvement, partnership and participation (Burke & Harrison, 2002)
  • Direct strategies include:
    • Identify and develop family strengths
    • Identify their coping strategies and resources which help them cope
    • Identify their experiences of racism and oppression
    • Assist families to advocate for their specific needs
    • Support families to gain the tools to challenge power and develop a strong identity
    • Build relationships with families to minimize the power imbalances(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).

Education refers to the process of training which may occur for staff to build their capacity to understand and work within a culture of AO practice.  Some identified strategies and objectives are:

  • Ensure that key staff team members, managers, Board members have a clear understanding and knowledge base of issues of race, racism and privilege.
  • Ensure that racism and oppression is considered when working with families who are marginalized and racialized as possible influence upon their mental health.
  • Provide staff with a clear understanding of their organizational culture which focuses upon anti-oppressive practice, inclusivity and equity
  • Ensure staff, management, and board members are provided opportunities for training and supervision to increase their learning and application of anti-oppressive framework.
  • Specific strategies include: defining and addressing racism, teaching the history of racism, developing leadership, and developing a multidirectional accountability(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).

Building Alliances refers to partnerships and collaborations with community partners in this process of:

  • Community development and practice helps to develop and build alliances with community members. This is an important focus for anti-racist and anti-oppression strategy as described by (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).  Building alliances can be powerful in numerous ways but particularly:
    • Provide support and political visibility
    • Challenge power and privileges, change perceptions and racism on multiple levels
    • Develop direct action and campaigns to support AO on several organizational levels(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
    • Is flexible without losing focus (Burke & Harrison, 2002), which refers to developing alliances with families and learns to become more flexible as opposed to maintain allied with rigid policies which may be oppressive.

Language is considered in terms of providing appropriate language interpretation within meetings and documents to ensure the individual or family can engage at a similar level with the staff team member.  Language is also considered in how relationship and trust is developed between the service provider and service user, as well as how the service provider defines the service user (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).  Some suggestions include:

  • Avoid the use of titles, ranks or positions which can put distance between the service providers and the family
  • Ensure that use of language is sensitive
  • Avoid the use of labels and judgements that focus on pathology, rather focusing on people’s strengths is important
  • Explore institutions to determine if they reinforce or resist racism within language usage
  • As much as possible, use interpretation professionals from the same ethno-cultural background as the service user
  • Ensure documents are translated for people who do not speak or read English
  • Be sensitive to individuals who choose not to use interpreters because of their own worries about confidentiality

Fostering reflexivity  refers to the practice of engaging in critical self-knowledge and examination of oneself, developing a greater understanding of oppression and racist principles, and acknowledging the existence of institutional racism and oppression within the organization.  By engaging in fostering reflexivity, people who experience racism, oppression and who are marginalized can begin to reclaim their identity and their history.  Suggestions for practice includes:

  • Continuous self-examination and reflection in anti-oppression principles(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
  • Self- assessment of how the clinician’s or workers own social identity and values affect the information they gather(Burke & Harrison, 2002).

Alternative healing strategies refers to Anti-oppressive practices shift closer to the social model to understand mental health difficulties.  The medical model, used by the dominant culture, focused primarily on the individual as ill and seeks medications and related treatment modalities to treat the individual.  By accepting a more holistic approach, the individual is invited to explore anti-racist mental health services.  As identified using the example provided by the Hong Kook Mental Health Services organization, including discussion of the “whole person” shifts the conversation and focus upon all areas of the individual’s experiences which is impacted by their difficulties.

Suggestion for practice includes:

  • Consider other holistic approaches into treatment which promote and are responsive to the diversity of human experiences and worldviews (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
  • Gather information from the service user on what healing interventions they have used and encourage the conversation to talk about alternative methods in healing.

Advocacy, Social justice/activist refers to as service providers, there may be opportunities for one to take on a role of supporting and assisting service users who are experiencing oppression.  However, there is a fine line between advocating and supporting an individual or family, between disempowering and persuading.  It is further important to ensure that the service provider follows the needs of the service user. Achieving social justice is a collaborative effort between the service organization and the user, as well as collaboration with external professionals involved within the service user’s life experiences (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).

Some strategies to support advocacy, social justice/activism include:

  • Promote policies that tackle discrimination
  • Resist policies that can be perceived as racist
  • Support critical deconstruction of the concept of race
  • Increase visibility of minorities in the media (this is further translated in print marketing tools, training materials, and the organization website)
  • Become involved in planning tables which focus upon advocacy, social justice and resiliency
  • Hire, train and recruit people into the organization that serve different racial groups at all levels in the organization(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
  • Challenges and changes existing ideas and practice which is oppressive to others (Burke & Harrison, 2002)
  • Analyze the oppressive nature or organizational culture, as well as how these structure impact practice (Burke & Harrison, 2002).
  • Has a critical analysis of the issues of power, both personal and structural (Burke & Harrison, 2002).

Anti-oppressive (Equity-Lens) FrameworkDevelopment

can occur within six changes.  These change avenues include:

  • Policy development: analysis of current policies, the development of new policies, development of a procedure to handle complaints, and a risk management policy.
  • Documentation: refers to the actual anti-oppressive framework, and other documents requires to support implementation. In this framework, these documents are later referred to in the context of a training curriculum.
  • Program development: identifying the unique needs of diverse service users and working in a collaborative model which builds alliance and fosters healthy helping relationships
  • Human resources: identify key strategies and attach supporting policies to ensure greater equity for opportunities offered to diverse communities
  • Skills and training: refers to process of developing and enhancing staff skill and expertise on AO.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: consists of a data collection process to identify a baseline, assess objectives and initiatives focused upon delivering culture and procedural change(Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2016), (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012) and (Fithian, 2016).

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