Circles of Support

FAQ: Do I have to do this alone?

A:Many family carers at times feel isolated and worried about who will fight their relative’s corner if they are unable to do so. 

One solution is to set up a circle of support (also known as circle of friends) around your relative. A circle of support is a group of people who meet together regularly to discuss how to help an individual with learning disabilities to accomplish their goals, dreams and aspirations. People in circles are usually friends and family but professionals can be invited to join as and when needed.

The meetings are often very informal and personalised to the needs of the individual and the group. Here is a made up example of Sam’s circle of support showing how it can work in practice; Sam often uses his picture cards to tell people what he thinks and has been known to go for a walk to stretch his legs if he feels a meeting is going on for too long. There is no right or wrong way to set up meetings. They can be set up by anyone who has an interest in the person or can be facilitated by a volunteer or paid independent circle facilitator.

Meetings often focus on action plans looking at who can realistically do what and when and may use simple person-centred thinking tools to structure meetings. For example, in one circle meeting it was discovered that football is important to Sam, so Sam’s brother in law suggested that Sam might like to come and watch football on Sundays with him. This became a regular activity and now Sam knows lots of people at his local football club.

Circle meetings can often start by including the individual, relatives and staff but as the individual builds more relationships, circles often grow. There are many benefits to having a circle of support including better communication and relationships between staff and family carers and the person having more friends in the community.

Where to find out more

To find out more on setting up a circle and how to facilitate the meetings please look at the guide to Circles of Support at the Mental Health Foundation website here or the charity Circle Network.

You can read Pete's story about setting up a circle of support for his son Niki here and watch Pete and Wendy talk about setting up Niki's circle in the clip above.  Helen, who facilitates Niki's circle has also written about her experiences here

See more of our Frequently Asked Questions on related topics.

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