The roots of Family Network Thames Valley began around 1988, when a small number of families started looking for preschool options for their young children with disabilities. Families and educators who believed in inclusion started to gather regularly, and the discussions focused on the dreams of increasing options for children to attend their neighbourhood schools with their brothers, sisters and friends. Thus began the London Chapter of Integration Action Group (later IAI, or Integration Action for Inclusion), and the opportunity to have our voices heard at local Special Education Advisory Committees. Our children were pioneers, paving the way for the future as they were being welcomed into their local schools.
The group was instrumental in hosting many local and regional gatherings and conferences, and continued to advocate for inclusion as their children headed to secondary school. There were varying degrees of struggle and success, but the message was always clear and unwavering, that our sons and daughters have the right to learn alongside their peers and the same access to opportunities leading to a good life when leaving the public school system.
Our group started to change as we had a dual focus: inclusive education and advocacy for community life after high school. Known at first as London Family Network (LFN), we were born as a family group with an affiliation to Family Alliance Ontario (FAO). We continued to be active in both IAI and FAO, but as the young people of the core group of families starting to plan for their careers and lives after high school, the focus shifted. Our efforts were on learning more about individualized funding and how to increase opportunities for young adults in our local communities. The struggle to get younger families involved in advocacy for inclusive education was reflected in the membership of our groups.
Because of our continued belief in the strong core values of citizenship, inclusion, and quality community life, we started to bring people together to learn from families that were paving the way in the province of Ontario as their sons and daughters wanted new options, rather than the traditional day programs and segregated group living that had existed for so many years. We learned that it was possible to have your own home, choose where and who you lived with, go to post secondary education, have real jobs, customize the supports to match a person's interests and passions, and have lots of things to do in the community that did not have to be disability focused.
Although Family Network Thames Valley has never had a formal structure with an office and grant funding, we have maintained a strong autonomous voice in our region. We have expanded the network to families in the counties of Middlesex, Oxford and Elgin who share the same core principles and values as we move forward. We are working together on the development of independent facilitation, having individualized/direct funding and exploring new ways to live in our communities.
Today our expanded group is called Family Network Thames Valley. This name reflects the importance we place on geography and having a strong collective family voice from not only London, but the surrounding counties. Our values and principles remain the same, our desire to partner with others continues to be at the forefront, and having a strong, credible voice through an autonomous family network in our communities is a priority.
We believe in the value of the family voice. We believe it is powerful to be supporting our family members and friends to direct their own lives. We believe that facilitation support by someone who is truly unencumbered and independent, and who can be in relationship with our sons and daughters over time is key to their good life. We believe that having control over individual funding allocations and also being able to design a life and supports that are tailor-made are also important. Most of all, we believe that having relationships: friends, neighbours, colleagues, co-workers and families, people in the lives of our sons and daughters is what will ensure a life of satisfaction and quality into the future. We are working to achieve that end. We encourage other families with the same beliefs, goals and desires to contact us - together we are stronger.