Category Archives: Belonging in Community

Supporting Natural Support Networks

For several years, many of us have been trying to figure out how to move away from systems of support and create natural support networks for ourselves, our family members, and our friends.  I have been fortunate recently to be working with some wonderful people in my other home community in Prince Edward County, Canada around inclusion – in schools and communities.  They are a part of an organization that appears to be trying to work with people rather than provide services to clients.  I wanted to share some of their information to see what you think. 




Picton, ON, Canada

Principles of Support, Standards and Best Practices – September 2009

Community Living Prince Edward’s (CLPE’s) Principles of Support represent the value base of the organization.  It is the responsibility of all employees of CLPE to adhere to and promote these principles, ensuring a high standard of respectful and professional service. 








      Natural Support Networks are the people involved in a person’s life who have a   lifelong commitment to them, inclusive of family, friends, spouses, partners, and community connections. 

      The involvement of a natural support network is seen as an integral part of the organization’s Mission and Values, in keeping with our principles concerning health and wellness for all people.  Natural Support Networks reduce a person’s reliance on paid employee’s as well as their vulnerability of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and exploitation. 

Standards for Natural Support Networks

  1. People will determine who is important to them and who they want in their lives.
  2. People will determine what they want their natural support network relationships to look like.
  3. People will take the lead role in developing/maintaining their relationships.
  4. People will have a circle of natural support networks that are not paid staff. 
  5. People will have action statements included in their plans that foster and nurture natural support networks.
  6. Staff will be knowledgeable about the natural support networks that people have and support people in enhancing and maintaining these networks. 

Best Practices for Natural Support Networks

  • We encourage and support people to make phone calls, write letters & emails, and visit friends and relatives.
  • We keep a written record of people’s natural support networks in their files and document all communication in their personal binders.
  • We respect a person’s privacy and only provide support when necessary.
  • We ensure that where people have family involvement, purposeful plans to get together are made based on the choices of the person. 
  • We ensure that where people have reciprocal relationships with others that are part of their natural support network.
  • We support people to send cards, flowers, purchase gifts, etc. to their natural support networks when celebrating significant events (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day, etc.) based on their personal preference.
  • We support people to use resources such as family trees, genealogy, internet, CAS, etc. to reconnect and find family and friends if they are interested to do so.
  • We support people to use resources to mediate unresolved conflict with family or friends that may be presenting a barrier for developing relationships.
  • We support people to remember people that were important in their life i.e. memorials in the paper, pictures, memory boxes, visiting gravesites, DVD’s, etc.
  • We ensure people are aware of and support people to connect with community resources and support when they are involved in unsafe relationships i.e. Counseling, Alternatives, Al-anon, etc. 

It’s Possible to Open Doors that Allow People to Step Through into Community

Open door

I thank the Ohio TASH board members for a lively, focused meeting in Westerville. I appreciated the conversation about two faces of the question: Where do people belong, if they happen to have a disability? On the one hand, we wondered together how we can support full community presence and participation by people with disabilities. One answer was the upcoming event in southwest Ohio featuring Al Etmanski of PLAN, described elsewhere in this blog.

While “systems” are more likely to offer people with disabilities places in segregated, congregate settings like sheltered workshops and group homes, I was reminded recently that, while systems don’t create community life for the people they support, sometimes it’s possible to open doors that allow people to step through into community. I had asked service coordinators I work with to write a little about situations they have seen over the past year or so in which a person who uses our system improved their quality of life. I read about a young woman who returned to her home community, started college, began making independent trips to the local public library, and reconnected with her family. I also read about a child who attended his local public school for the first time, after experiencing segregated education. The cloud around these silver linings is that these young people had to experience segregation at all.

Most often what the system offers people is a place in a “program” where community participation consists of “outings”, like a regular trip to the mall with a group from the same program. I think of these places as “partial institutionalization”, similar in to the “partial hospitalization” program offered by the mental health center where I worked many years ago, which gave people with psychiatric conditions who were able to live outside a hospital setting a hospital-like place to spend their days. Now, in the county where I live and work, people eligible for MRDD services ride a bus every weekday to a place where they, and more than 200 others, spend the day in a kind of “partial institutionalization”. It doesn’t provide a living wage, and it’s not my idea of community life. At best, it offers something to do.

The good news on the other side of the question about where people belong is that state-operated developmental centers in Ohio now provide housing and services for “only” about 1700 people, down from around 10,000 at their peak. That relatively good news is tempered by the fact that several thousand Ohioans live in private facilities that often aren’t any closer to community life than public centers. Ohio relies heavily on private facilities, and unfortunately people who live there can’t take the money and simply buy different services. That money belongs to the facility where they live. A quick look at other states shows that it’s possible to do without these facilities, both private and public. Michigan, for example, has fewer than 200 people living in public institutions. It took a state budget crisis and a 20-year-old lawsuit against the state to get Ohio to help people leave public institutions. What would it take for us to learn to live without institutions altogether?

I’m afraid that as long as institutions — public developmental centers, private facilities, segregated schools and county-operated sheltered workshops — exist, they will continue to teach people in our communities that “special people” belong in “special places” where specialists give them “special help”. That lesson is the exact opposite of the beliefs that could lead us to real deinstitutionalization: Everyone has gifts to give. Our communities need the gifts that people with disabilities bring and the gifts that they release in others. We can learn to support people to participate in community life, no matter how severe the impacts of their disabilities. Until we do so, the fabric of our communities will be torn and weaker than it could be. What it takes to get started is the belief that inclusion is possible and the will to begin.

Leah Holden

Inclusion is Possible.

Inclusion is Possible.