If you’ve recently read about the many different ways we’re working with individuals in need across New Hampshire, you may have come across the term “Life Plan.” This tool is playing an increasingly significant role in our social services programs, including Parish & Community Services and the Our Place pregnancy and parenting program.
To help you better understand what a Life Plan is – and why it’s so important for those we serve – we spoke with Marc Cousineau, Director of Parish & Community Services, to learn more.
How would you describe a Life Plan?
A Life Plan is a combination of a comprehensive assessment and an actionable goal- or series of goals – designed to positively change a critical part of the lives of individuals in crisis and help them get on a more successful path forward.
A Life Plan is a foundation for building meaningful and engaging relationships with clients. A Life Plan is carefully developed to meet clients where they are at, addressing and helping remove current obstacles that are inhibiting them, while also shifting the fundamental dynamics of some aspect of that person’s life to generate a more sustainable change.
We’ve all heard the adage of the difference between “giving someone a fish” and “teaching them how to fish” – it turns out that’s true! Someone might receive assistance to bring short-term relief, only to find the same problems may reoccur, and they continue to get stuck in an ongoing cycle of crisis. A Life Plan takes a look at “the big picture” – all facets of a person’s life to identify the steps, tools or resources to address not only a current crisis but also the chronic issues that keep them stuck and leave them feeling hopeless.
Our tagline at Catholic Charities New Hampshire is “Moving Lives Forward.” A Life Plan embodies what we mean by that – and is a big reason that clients can finally overcome obstacles and move beyond reoccurring problems.
What does a Life Plan involve?The Life Plan process starts when we sit down with a client and have a conversation, carefully listening to the problems they are facing and asking questions. We take a more in-depth look into their lives, with a formal assessment across a wide range of life situations, including their access to food, housing, clothing and transportation; income and employment status; education levels; physical and mental health; personal relationships; and financial behaviors and habits. Everyone’s life is complex and can be a bit messy (it’s our shared human condition!), but we will work together with clients to develop what we call S.M.A.R.T. (smart) goals. These are defined goals that are specific to the individual and targeted to improve a particular aspect of their life tied to a more significant challenge or chronic problem.
The best goals have such qualities as:
- They are Specific. For instance, “I want to finish my associate’s degree at my local community college (Manchester Community College)” instead of “I want to go back to school.”
- They are Measurable: “My goal will be a success if I graduate” versus “I’m good once I get accepted!”
- They are Attainable! “This is realistic because I know I have the support and resources to study hard and see this through to the end” versus “I haven’t thought about the financial requirements with school.”
- They also have to be practical and Relevant. “An associate’s degree will help me secure a full-time job that puts me on more secure financial footing” versus “I want to get a degree because it seems like the thing to do.”
- And having a Time-bound deadline helps too: “I plan to graduate from Manchester Community College by the spring of 2020” versus “I will enroll at MCC and graduate eventually.”