Women’s Community Development Program of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT): An Assessment Report

Tania Smith, Women’s Community Development Coordinator,
AIDS Committee of Toronto
June 2003


Background:

The AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) Strategic Plan for the period 2001 – 2004 involved the completion of an environmental scan to identify the shifts, trends and needs of staff, community partners and the communities ACT serves. Committed to serving the needs of all living with HIV/AIDS, and gay men, youth and at-risk women, ACT’s 2001-2004 Strategic Plan included an emphasis on equity and access and strategic planning to continue identifying, implementing, and coordinating strategies at all levels of the organization to reflect and serve the diverse communities of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. In Strategic Direction #3, ACT commits to review its role and strategies with other agencies, as part of a system-wide needs assessment and planning process.

Assessment of epidemiological information and consultations with community partner agencies revealed an increase in HIV infection rates among diverse groups of women in Toronto: women from countries of high HIV prevalence, substance users, women whose partners practiced high risk sex and/or drug-using behaviours, as well as women who identified no other risk other than “heterosexual sex”.

In support of the agency’s strategic directions and to assist in the development of relevant and appropriate programming, ACT’s Women’ Community Development Program (WCDP) conducted a program assessment to identify service provider priorities and needs. This assessment consists of interviews with community partners from various community health, health and social service organizations in Toronto. The results of this process will assist in better defining the roles, activities and approaches of this program.


Program Assessment and Development:

Goal :
To develop relevant and appropriate community development programming

Target Population:
1. Relevant staff member(s) of organizations that provide direct education and support to at risk and HIV-positive women.

Objectives:
1. To identify the target population(s) and priorities of relevant programs within organizations that provide direct education and support to at risk and HIV-positive women
2. To identify the barriers to providing relevant education and support
3. To identify the priorities of organizations that provide health and social services to at risk and HIV-positive women
4. To identify the barriers to providing relevant treatment and services
5. To identify the health and social service needs of at risk and HIV-positive women
6. To determine the roles, activities and approaches of the WCDP within the community.

Strategies
1. Conduct interviews with relevant staff within AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs), and other HIV-related programs and services.
2. Conduct literature review of studies, focus groups and needs assessments of at risk and HIV-positive women.


Results:

Interviews with Community Partners: (ASOs and HIV related service organizations)

Through the Women’s Outreach Network, staff interviewed 10 community partners from community health clinics, AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs), hospices, Public Health and community centres. The interviews were conducted from January to March 2002. Each interview lasted between one to one and a half hours and consisted of the following questions:
1. What is your title and role?
2. What are your priority issues and target audience for this year?
3. What projects are you working on for the year?
4. What are the barriers to providing relevant and appropriate services?
5. Have you worked with the WCDP in the past? If yes, what were the challenges or success
6. In your opinion, what role does the WCDP play within the community?
7. What can the WCDP do in relation to your projects and priorities for this year?

This report will focus on community priorities and activities; barriers to providing relevant education, care and support; and the WCDP role within community.


Target populations of community partners

  • Pre-teens, teens in high priority areas, street youth, low-income youth, youth in sex-trade
  • Women from HIV prevalent countries
  • High-risk women 20-39 (homeless, poverty, substance users)
  • Board of Education and community agencies
  • HIV positive women
  • At risk and HIV positive women in correctional facilities
  • Refugee women
  • Women and young women in underserved areas (such as Scarborough)
  • Women of colour

Priority issues and activities:
  • Enhancing and extending communication with positive women via agency newsletter
  • Revamping agency website
  • Updating women and pregnancy brochure
  • Women’s Retreat
  • Providing grants to community partners working with target population
  • Developing collaborative projects
  • National HEP C/HIV study among women in correctional facilities
  • Restructuring agency
  • Outreach/’in reach’ in prisons
  • Broaden services in home care
  • Cultural competency among staff
  • Identifying the shifts in behaviour and attitudes among young women
  • Create social change
  • Developing a more focused approach to sexual health awareness and services
  • Conducting a community assessment

Service/Program Provision Challenges
  • Funding.
  • Constantly barraged by the issues of residents
  • Interpersonal challenges among residents
  • Perceived as a white organization
  • Fundraising
  • Cultural competency
  • Programming lacks focus

Role of WCDP
  • ACT is an ‘umbrella’ of ASOs.
  • Target women
  • Provide more education
  • Help women to cope
  • A linking role, having a sense of what’s out there and bringing agencies together to network
  • Providing an opportunity for joint planning.
  • “I think it’s always difficult. You don’t want to duplicate services. You don’t’ want to compete.”
  • A very strong advocacy role
  • Leadership around advocacy and partnership
  • Creating initiatives
  • Looking at what the programs of agencies need to be
  • Facilitator---coordinating community
  • A resource to at risk and positive women
  • Liaison to women in the field

What can ACT’s WCDP do to assist with your projects and priorities?
  • Available for consultations “With your eyes, what are you seeing?”
  • We like to include the community more. For example, you can participate or let us know who we can work with on projects with exotic dancers
  • Let us know what is going on. Who is doing what?
  • Keep us abreast of emerging issues
  • Forward information and updates for the FYI
  • Provide links for sites
  • Partnership on women specific projects linked to HIV
  • Information sharing
  • Support our process


Conclusions:

Strategic Directions for the Women’s Community Development Program:
Feedback from community partners clearly outlined a clear coordination, information sharing and facilitory role for ACT’s Women’s Community Development Program. As a result, the Women’s Community Development Coordinator will:
  • Facilitate information and skills building workshops and training for service providers;
  • Facilitate information distribution;
  • Generate awareness about Women and HIV and related issues among service providers and community
  • Initiate and/or facilitate partnerships and collaborative projects
  • Identify or facilitate advocacy opportunities

How These Directions Will be Achieved:
In recognition of the value of pre-existing structures, ACT’s Women’s Community Development Coordinator will work through the Women’s Outreach Network (WON) to fulfill the expected role and activities for the Women’s Community Development Program (WCDP). WON is a pro-choice, anti-oppression, group of individuals and organizations working together to develop, support and enhance HIV/AIDS services for women. WON provides networking, information sharing and partnership opportunities for services providers who work with at risk and HIV-positive women.

The Women’s Community Development Coordinator will resume and enhance coordination and facilitation of the monthly Women’s Outreach Network (WON) meetings and activities. Historically, WON served as an information-sharing network and an informal advisory committee for ACT’s WCDP. The WCDC was responsible for coordinating WON activities and chairing meetings. After several joint advocacy initiatives and collaborative projects, WON sought a more autonomous structure from the WCDP where coordination, chairing and minute-taking responsibilities were rotated among members. Eventually, productivity and attendance waned and the network lost direction. ACT is committed to rejuvenating the work of WON by participating in a much more active role.

Through yearly strategic direction setting meetings, the WCDC will facilitate WON’s agenda setting, identification of issues, activities and partnership opportunities.

Through information and skill gaps identified through reports, consultations, networks and WON, the WCDC will work with WON members to plan, coordinate and implement relevant training sessions, workshops and presentations for service providers who work with at risk and HIV-positive women.

The WCDC will establish links between WON and relevant networks and committees to facilitate information sharing and increase partnership opportunities.

The WCDC will promote WON and its activities to generate membership and awareness.

The WCDC will develop resources or communication channels to promote the programs and projects of members and relevant organizations.

The WCDC will write articles and make presentations about service provider issues, women’s HIV risk factors, living with HIV, sexual health and service access.

The WCDC will research relevant resources such as research reports, web sites and networks.