A circle of support refers to a group of people who come together to help support a person with a disability. The circle is a community that includes friends, family, care workers, teachers or other important people. The aim is to support the person with a disability throughout their life.
Circle members can help to tackle problems or give advice. Their contributions focuses on the well-being of the person with a disability. They might meet or communicate via email or SMS.
Why a Circle of Support is important
Establishing a Circle of Support means you get help to make decisions. A strong Circle of Support provides reassurance to primary carers. It can also help spread the load of care responsibilities. Because you'll always have someone to talk to or rely on for support.
Having a Circle of Support can also help lower anxiety about asking for help or where to turn for support.
The principles of a Circle of Support
There are a few principles to be aware of if you're considering establishing a Circle of Support:
The Circle of Support focuses on the individual with the disability. So the support group should reflect their identity and values.
There's no right way to establish and run a Circle of Support. There's also no need to be too prescriptive about how it works.
A Circle of Support should naturally develop from existing support networks. People who care about the person with a disability and want to focus on their well-being.
The Circle of Support doesn't replace the role of family or professional services.
Members aren't responsible for personalised care or support plans. They focus on what's important to the person with a disability.
All members work together openly and honestly toward a shared vision. To enable the person with a disability to live their best life.
The benefits of a Circle of Support
A Circle of Support offers lots of benefits, including:
fostering new relationships
helping to reduce isolation
improving well-being for you and your loved ones
encouraging the sharing of new ideas
supporting your natural support networks
helping to reduce strain on families
assisting with succession planning
supporting positive risk-taking
encouraging honest evaluation
offering opportunities to share in celebrations
How to build your Circle of Support
Sometimes your circle of support will evolve throughout your disability journey. At other times, you may wish to invite new people to join the circle. New people can bring in new ideas, skills and perspectives. If you're looking to start a Circle of Support, here are some steps to consider:
1. Work out who you want to invite
If you or someone in your life has a disability, the first step is to consider who to invite to join the Circle of Support. Look for people with the skills and qualities you think will best support you or your loved one. Try to choose people you think you'll be able to build a rapport with.
2. Get to know them better
You don't have to broach the subject of the Circle of Support straight away. Take some time to get to know people to ensure they're suitable. Find out more about their interests and passions, including hobbies or common interests. Share your story with them, including your or your loved one's goals. Invite them for a coffee and a chat, so they can get to know you and your family better.
3. Invite them to your circle
Have an open and honest conversation about what you need from them. Be clear about their role. Tell them how much support you're likely to need. Let them know how often you'll meet and what tasks they might support you with. Another good option is to have a trial period to ensure it's right for both of you before committing.
4. Consider how you'll communicate
Establish guidelines for how often you'll meet. Think about which communication channels best suit your group members. And consider inclusive communication. For example, use visual cues so your family member can take part in meetings if they're non-verbal. Using a tool like Ability8 can help you easily communicate with your circle. You can use one-on-one or group chats to send instant messages or share documents.
5. Hold your first meeting
Hold an initial meeting so everyone can get to know one another. Introduce yourselves and prepare some icebreaker questions. Tell each other how you connect to the person with a disability. It's also an excellent time to review your or your loved one's life. This can help to clarify any ideas or goals, review obstacles and discuss priorities.
Listening to the focus person's goals is your circle's primary purpose. Ask the person with a disability to speak or if they’re non-verbal, look at how you can best share their goals. This helps your circle members understand you or your family better. Also, consider how involved the person with a disability wishes to be in your circle meetings.
Creating a Circle of Support is an excellent way to get the support you or your loved one. Online groups or parent circles are also a great way to share stories with people in similar situations. Both options offer encouragement and are a great source of support and comfort.