#053: Personal Support Networks, with Rebecca Pauls

November 29, 2018

4-minute read, 57-minute listen]         

In this episode, you will learn all about Personal Support Networks! You might have heard of support circles, circles, microboards, or aroha’s (there are probably names I’m missing), but theses are all forms of Personal Support Networks. Rebecca Pauls, Director of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), shares with us with us what a Personal Support Network is, how they can benefit you, and how to go about building one.

Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) is a Vancouver-based social enterprise that partners with families and people facing social isolation to secure their future by mobilizing relationships and leveraging community assets. Since joining PLAN three years ago, Rebecca has led a complete re-design of programming to integrate principles of person-centred planning, ABCD, narrative therapy, and independent facilitation. After demonstrating the strength and flexibility of this community approach, Rebecca is regularly invited to consult with organizations about how it can be scaled and applied to population groups across North America.

You can listen to this conversation in its entirety by clicking play on the player below, OR by clicking one of the following links to listen on your favourite podcast player; iTunesSpotify, and Google Play.

How did PLAN Originate?

Rebecca shares:

PLAN is an advocacy group in BC, which started with a group of parents that came together and founded PLAN 30 years ago. These parents believed their sons and daughters could contribute and be included in the community. The work of PLAN is charting a new path that is full of opportunity for people with disabilities. They are thinking about the present, but also the future. What happens when we are gone? This is when the idea of personal support networks really began to mobilize.”

One of PLAN’s ultimate aims is to create a Good life for families, which includes; Friends and relationships, making a contribution, being empowered to make choices, a place to call home, financial stability, parents have peace of mind. The basis of all of these things is to have people and relationships to do life together with. One of the main tools used at PLAN to accomplish this is personal support networks.

What is a Personal Support Network?

We all have a network – a group of people we depend on for companionship, support and decision making. This typically includes our family, friends, and neighbors, but also professionals like counselors or financial advisors. This group can be considered your “Personal Support Network”, and it reflects your personal interests, abilities, and needs. The specific individuals will vary by person and may change over time. Some networks will include many, while others just a few people. (Reference: PLAN website)  

What is the Purpose of a Personal Support Network?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

To ensure that no one is alone or so no one is stuck in isolation. Sometimes we hear the saying that loneliness is the only debilitating disability. A personal support network is to ensure that everyone can live in an inclusive community. There are all sorts of things people in the network can do together and accomplish. At the heart of it is recognizing that we have the support that we need to live the life that we want and dream of for ourselves.

What are you seeing for people with Disabilities that have an intentional personal support network, vs those who do not?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

“I think the difference comes in when the unpaid relational support is involved. When there isn’t a personal support network they might live a life where they don’t have friends. When a personal support network is involved and parents aren’t able to be involved, there are people that are there to play important and specific roles. At PLAN we have mentors to support families with building and maintaining these Personal Support Networks.

In different times in a person’s life, they might depend on a person’s personal support network in different ways. When they are a young person or things are going well they might do more fun and social things. At different points in life when challenging situations come up, or there is a need for planning and advocacy it might be more formal. You can often hear these networks being called natural supports, or circle of support, or microboard (which is the most formal way of setting up a personal support network). The most important thing is not what you call it, but in the way that people are working together. It is important not only for people with disabilities, but it is more like a way of being, and a way of living our lives. It is sometimes difficult to build or maintain those personal networks. PLAN has a community connector or mentors to help keep everyone connected.

How does someone build a personal support network?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

“We start by getting to know who the person is, their gifts, what they think about, what they like to do, and the things that they care about. We build relationships based on common interests. When we build the network we focus on gifts and the uniqueness of each person. Then we think of who are all of the people in your life and build a relationship map. If there aren’t a lot of people in your life we think about if you did have people in your life, what roles would they play?

Then we look to the community. We believe that our communities are full of welcoming places and other people with gifts. When we look to build the connections we look for groups that are already in place. The role of the community connector is to create opportunities for the person to get connected.

Turning those relationships into a network is a matter of talking about what is important. We encourage people to share what is important in their life right now. The community connector can help to create the opportunities for people together.

As we reach a time where a generational shift is happening, the parents that created inclusion across the country are reaching their 70’s the rubber is hitting the road in terms of these networks and transition.

Building networks is a little bit counter-cultural, we are getting busier, and we are living more isolated lives, we don’t know our neighbors as much as we used to. ”

You can access the resources on building personal support networks (e-books and online courses) mentioned on the podcast in the resource section at the bottom of this blog).

Who plays the community connector role?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

“Sometimes there is a natural connector in a person’s life. In other situations, the family might hire someone to play that role (Like the service PLAN offers). Some organizations train their personal support workers to take a network approach. The supporter will ask the question, who else can we involve?

Personal support networks usually come together every month or every other month to do some planning and to talk about what the priorities are for that month, and how they can support each other.”

What do personal support network meetings look like?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

“Some are very structured and some are very natural. We plan based on what that person is comfortable with, what the current needs and priorities are. At PLAN every 6 months we create work plans. For the next 6 months, what do we want to accomplish? Do we plan events and celebrations, look for job opportunities, or find a new apartment. Each month the community connector will send a monthly update on the progress that is made.”

On the podcast, Rebecca gives examples of what support networks and roles people play in a support network can look like.

What are you currently learning at PLAN?

Paraphrasing from the podcast Rebecca Shares:

“PLAN has done a good job helping families build networks which have resulted in friendships and community contribution, but we are starting to really work toward helping people put those networks to work. Passing the baton from mom and dad to other people in the network, before we reach a crisis point and being proactive. Identifying the key roles, and what is the succession plan. Inviting network members and transferring the knowledge to the next generation. It is succession planning, what do we need to know and how do we start to pass this along. Roles like trustee, guardian or power of attorney, or more practical things like who is going to help this person go to the bank or transportation.”

PLAN has also developed a new planning tool that works to answer the question, do families have peace of mind? This is an interesting question because peace of mind is dynamic and it changes. This new planning tool helps families to understand if they have peace of mind in the different areas of life, and it helps families to think about what they need to do to get there. Listen to the podcast to learn more about this thinking that Rebecca shares.

*You can listen to the full conversation with Rebecca Pauls by clicking below.*

A final message from Rebecca, “Personal support networks are about relationships. They are about living intentionally together and supporting each other and sharing what is important to us. For me personally, because of all of the changes we see happening in families and people sadly passing away, there is a real urgency for us to begin asking the question, ‘What does this {personal support networks] really look like?’, and, ‘Are we intentionally supporting each other?’. Do we know people that don’t have any relationships?, and asking ourselves, ‘what we can do?’. There are all kinds of possibilities to connect and we just need to go after them.”

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Love & Respect,

Eric Goll


Safe and secure, by Al Etmanski 

Online 6-week course called Personal Support Network Facilitation

Planinstitute.ca has several online resources in their learning center

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