What’s Worth Working For? [PDF]

Leadership for Better Quality Human Services

John O’Brien


Decisions that make a positive difference

Brian and his family rely on their community’s human services because of his severe disability. Brian’s recent experiences illustrate the kind of human service decisions that make a difference in the lives of the people involved.

Brian works in a restaurant cleaning the dining room, stocking the salad bar, and assisting with food preparation. At age 26, it is his first job. His mother says, “He was proud to get a name tag. He is most proud of the idea that he works like every- body else.” His co-workers say he enjoys being part of their group. His employer says he does a good job, most of the time. Brian says very little, but most work days he gets up without difficulty and much of the time he does his tasks willingly and capably.

Group home staff recognize that difficult behavior, which led to his institutionalization and has frustrated their efforts at behavior management, happens less frequently since he has been working. His job coach notices that Brian seldom bites himself, swears loudly, or sucks his thumb at work and thinks it is mostly because of the influence of his co-workers and his interest in his job.

Brian is not cured. He still has significant difficulty with self control and he continues to need some extra help from his supervisor, some extra help from his co-workers, and some assistance from his job coach. He still has difficult times at the group home. If he lost his job, he would need a great deal of help to find another one.


Conclusion: Developing high quality human services for people with severe disabilities demands active engagement in complex, emotionally charged, ambiguous situations. It calls for reallocation of service resources, working outside traditional boundaries, and renegotiation of the service’s position in community life. This essential work calls for the motivation arising from a vision of inclusive community, the boundaries set by a clear and realistic sense of organ- izational purpose, and the focus offered by well defined service accomplishments. It requires effective leadership from service workers, people with disabilities, and their families and friends if all those concerned are to face the difficult problems of creating high quality services and to make progress toward resolving them.