Creating Circles of Support for people with learning disabilities

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Supporting individuals to say what they want out of life

Mark Williams talks about the impact good person centred planning can have and shares some real examples and experiences


The Person Centred Plan

The Life Options Project has been set up to help young people and those who support or care for them to plan for a new adult life after school finishes. It is our job to support people to find different ways to communicate what they want and need out of life. This 'Person Centred Plan' is then used to make sure that 'Individual Education Plans' and 'Community Care Plans' really listen to (reflect) what the person wants. It should also make sure that the services and opportunities offered to people are very close to what the person wants and needs. To help you to get a real picture of how this can work in everyday life we want to share some real stories.

Who is the person at the centre of the plan?

One of the biggest things missing from most people's individual plans is a real description or picture of who the person actually is. In Person Centred Planning we make a lot of effort to make sure that we know who this person is (their character), what their life has been like, who and what is important to them and how they like to be treated or communicated with. A good way to do this is by working with them on making a PERSONAL PORTFOLIO. It is very important that this 'document' is in a format that can be used by and is of great interest to that person, but also that it can be understood by people they want to introduce themselves to. That means that we have to think very carefully about what will work.

For example, Trystan has always enjoyed 'Read-Along' books, so we are helping him to make his own story about himself. It has a section about 'Growing up-Fond memories', a poem about the important people in his life, what his school week is like, his favourite activities at home, his own hobbies and fascinations - mini cars, insect collecting and visiting haunted houses! It also includes his favourite out and about activities including riding the scariest theme park rides, his holidays, his communication and support needs and a list of ambitions for the future. The book will feature lots of pictures and photographs chosen by Trystan and his family, and will be produced in Welsh and English because, although Trystan's language is Welsh, he needs to speak to people who use both languages. Finally, he has been lucky enough to get the help of one of his favourite TV characters to make the tape which goes with the book - 'Barry Welsh'.

What is so useful about a portfolio like this is that it can be used, not only to make sure the plan is actually about this person Trystan, but also as an introduction and communication aid - it will help new people to get to know him. Other examples include Jamie who had help to make his own Newspaper, Andrew, who used a wallet with personal credit card-sized introductions and photo's, Robert who made a video, Joyce who made a box to hold her collections, and Fariana (who has a sight impairment) who used a dowry box (from her culture) with a collection of objects that she could feel and smell to show people what is important to her.

Inviting people to help with your plan

The most important person to help make the plan is the person himself or herself, but it is also a good idea to help them to ask or invite others who they know and like, to help out. These can include family, friends, neighbours, advocates or volunteers and support people such as school, day service or house staff. If they cannot all get to one get together then perhaps a couple of sessions can be arranged. Trystan and his family recently invited people to get together at their home - 13 people turned up, including his grandmother and great grandmother, an auntie, cousins, a friend from school and his family aide. We are hoping another session will be held at school. After welcome drinks and food, a successful planning session was held and the group plan to get together 3 or 4 times a year to see how things are going. Some people call this type of group a CIRCLE OF FRIENDS or CIRCLE OF SUPPORT, but you don't have to give it a name.

Making a plan for the future

To help people in making a plan for the future there are different ideas that can be used. For Trystan's plan we used something called MAPS, but there are other ways to do this which include PATH, Personal Futures Planning, Essential Lifestyles Planning and Individual Service Design. All of these planning tools find ways of bringing the person together with other invited people, asking a lot of questions, looking for ideas, and working out ways to help the person towards a better life or a new challenge. Using MAPS we were able to find out much more about who Trystan is, what he is good at and enjoys, what an ideal future might look like and what action we might need to take. To do this there were 2 'facilitators' - people who ask the questions and write down or draw what was said and we used big sheets of paper that everybody could see and used words and pictures that we could all understand. The meeting took 2 hours and some of the things we found out were:

· That Trystan is a difficult to understand sometimes, but he is also very strong willed and funny and knows a lot about the things he likes.
· That Trystan is good at lots of things - dancing, drawing, copying voices, riding his bike, doing things on the computer - and sometimes he can do several things at once.
· That Trystan's ideal future might include - gradual changes, still doing the things he likes, but trying new things such as College or employment - maybe working in a theme park!
· We need to help Trystan in his plan by - helping him to finish his portfolio, involving the school, developing a circle of friends in school, finding out about local day services and direct payments, visiting the local College and holding another get together in 3 months.

You can use these planning tools too

We have found that by using these different ways to help people plan, that people can actually achieve the life that they want. We are confident that these plans will lead to lots of new opportunities, even if the person has got very complicated disabilities. We are finding that Care Managers will listen to these plans, that local colleges will make lots of effort to include everybody, that people can have jobs if they want, that people can have respite care in lots of different ways and that people can access direct payments if that suits them better.

We believe that person centred planning is different because:

· It is owned by the person and therefore they want to be involved
· It is about the whole person and helps them to feel valued
· It is about what the person wants and means that they are listened to
· It is creative and different which means it is interesting and meaningful
· It is about making things possible meaning that the person is happy and motivated
· It is about working this out together, about sharing support

If you want to find out more about finding better ways of supporting people to say what they want out of life, please read the Life Options leaflet, or you can contact us to find out more about our Information Service and Newsletter. We have lots of information about helping people to plan.

Contact Mark Williams or Kelly Gammon on 01554 746782 or 01554 746806, or email us at

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