You asked us: Support Networks, An Informal Safeguard
Welcome to CLBC’s “You Asked Us” feature where CLBC staff answer your questions about CLBC supports and services.
This month, Jule Hopkins, Manager of Service Accountability and Safeguards, answers your questions about support networks, which are an informal safeguard. Jule leads CLBC’s informal safeguards project, which has a major focus on building support networks, as an important informal safeguard. The goal of this work is to address the need to reduce vulnerability and help create safe, welcoming communities for everyone.
1. What is a support network?
Support Networks are an informal safeguard that can enhance and enrich people’s lives. Support Networks are made of many different kinds of people who come into your family members’ life and who know and care about them. This can include family, friends, people who see them in the community like the bus driver, hairdresser and the cashier at the local grocery store. They can also be co-workers, team mates and fellow students, as well as acquaintances that may see your family member regularly at the coffee shop or at the hockey game. A support network can connect people to the community, reduce their vulnerability and help keep people safe.
2. Why is a support network important?
People in your family member’s life that know and care about them is one of the most important ways to ensure your family member feels safe and valued.
A support network can help your family member feel welcome in a community setting, can help them have fun, and ensure that they can have people in their life who will be there in case of an emergency. A support network can ensure that your family member has people they trust in their life who will notice when they are unhappy or hurt or when they need some extra help or someone to talk to.
3. My family member receives funded supports and services, why do they need a support network?
People may have great services, like housing, employment and day activities but still want to feel closer to family and friends. Some individuals with developmental disabilities may struggle with isolation and loneliness. They may want people who are not paid to support them, to be in their lives, so that they can have meaningful relationships with people who are interested in getting to know them.
There is a difference between being ‘in’ community and being part of community. Living in community does not always mean that people have a full life. Support networks give people a chance to engage in reciprocal experiences where they have a chance to share their own gifts and strengths with others.
4. Why is it important to have unpaid people in my life?
Individuals with disabilities may have formed positive, long lasting relationships with their paid support staff. However, these relationships do not always extend to the level of real friendship and if a paid staff member leaves, these connections can be hard to maintain. Having a larger circle of friends, acquaintances and other informal connections helps to ensure that people have fuller lives that are not solely dependent on paid supports.
5. Does it matter if my family member has significant challenges and needs?
The ability to form friendships or social connections has nothing to do with a person’s intellectual abilities, economic contribution or education. Forming a connection is a result of the ease and comfort building over time and growing into a meaningful relationship.
Relationships are as unique as the individuals participating in them. All people, regardless of their abilities, can engage in meaningful relationships. There are many examples of people making long lasting and caring connections to each other where the individual with a disability has multiple or complex challenges, in fact these have often been the best support networks formed.
6. Are personal support networks and informal safeguards really just a way of reducing funded services?
Funded services and supports are integral in meeting people’s disability-related needs. Just as important are friendships and social acquaintances which fulfill a deep human need and longing for connection. Support Networks that include unpaid people can augment and enhance the funded services, add dimension and create opportunities for people.
Connections support our sense of belonging and offer ways to be included in various aspects of community, such as work, social and recreational environments, school, clubs or associations.
7. What if my family member wants to do something that I think has some risk of rejection?
Risk and rejection are part of making connections in the world. It is important for your family member to gain confidence, take risks and explore opportunities.
There is dignity in risk taking and great potential in learning from experiences. People that support and care for an individual need to make sure that the way we address risks does not restrict the individual from reaching their goals. It is important to make sure that you are not holding back someone’s right to live their own life by trying to protect them too much, express your concerns and seek help from others in the support network.
All of us have experienced this at some time and it is important to have the confidence to continue to take risks and explore opportunities. Risk can be handled by planning and implementing good safeguards.
8. How do we start to build a support network?
You can start to build a support network by talking to your family member about who they would like in their support network. They may already have a group of informal connections that they have not thought of as an intentional support network, but people who are in some way part of their regular routine. Your family member can talk to staff that they interact with daily, tell people what’s important to them and keep in touch with people by meeting up for activities or through social media, email or phone.
There are a number of resources that can help get you started on CLBC’s website under Policies & Publications > Publications > Safeguards.