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Strengthening community capacity: Expanding the vision

Ken Barter

McKnight (1995) puts forth a community vision. This vision suggests the creation of community associations that are inclusive and provide opportunities for all citizens to be incorporated and recognized for their strengths and talents. It. is a vision that understands the community as the basic context for enabling people to contribute their strengths and talents. It extends beyond the thinking that envisions a world where there is a professional to meet every need or an advocate/advocacy group to protect people. Instead, according to McKnight:

Those who seek to institute the community vision believe that beyond therapy and advocacy is the constellation of community associations. They see a society where those who were once labeled, exiled, treated, counseled, advised, and protected are, instead, incorporated into community, where their contributions, capacities, (bold added) gifts, and fallibilities will allow a network of relationships involving work, recreation, friendship, support, and the political power of being a citizen.

Several assumptions underpin McKnight's community vision. For example, for too long community has remained as an afterthought and not necessarily integrated into services, programs, or human service organizations. It is important that the community role extend beyond funding systems and employing people to solve community problems given that children and youth require strong, not weak, communities. The assumption that many public services are crisis orientated and attempt to intervene after the fact is an important one. The reactive nature associated with crisis tends to absorb the bulk of resources with little remaining to invest in primary prevention and early intervention strategies. As a result many programs are categorical, divide problems into distinct entities, and have rigidly defined rules for service eligibility. This fragmentation makes it very difficult for easy access and flexibility in service delivery. Another assumption is that to a large extent public child-serving agencies have been negligent in communicating with each other in a timely and accurate manner.

Agencies are unable to deal adequately with their mandates alone – schools, mental health, addictions, corrections, children protection. Collaboration and partnerships are critical. That existing services are insufficiently funded is also an assumption worthy of note. As such, public child and youth serving agencies are placed in a serious bind. They arc expected to address social problems on behalf of society, yet with reduced resources they arc forced into making critical decisions that affect quality and accessibility. A final assumption is that for too long issues of poverty, discrimination, violence and other injustices have remained hidden in the planning and implementation of services for children and youth. It is no longer acceptable to deal with symptoms independently of the causes. Prevention and early intervention strategies are paramount.

Central to assumptions such as these is the recognition that children and youth are indeed a community resource and they are worth of investments in order to influence policies and practices to realize the determinants of health for purposes of facilitating their growth and development. Commitment to a community vision is a commitment to capacity building as a primary intervention strategy in working with children, youth, families, organizations, and communities. Each are communities of individuals connected by relationships, difficulties, common challenges and vulnerabilities, and interdependence. Commitment to capacity building requires a rethinking of current practices in that there is recognition for the significance of integrating individual and community practices, in other words, connecting personal difficulties and public issues.


McKnight, J. (1995) The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. New York: Basic Books.

Barter, K. (2003) Strengthening Community Capacity: Expanding the Vision. In Relational Child and Youth Care Practice Vol. 16, Issue 2 Spring 2003 pp 25-26

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