All of us need a good support network and our lives are made all the better by having people to encourage us and help us out when we need it. Consider who you call on to get some advice, think through a problem or get practical assistance for a job you can’t do on your own. You are likely to call on family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, acquaintances or friends of friends, depending on what it is you need. You probably have a support network without ever having planned it or even realising that you have one. For a person with disability a support network is vital because they may be more vulnerable to being isolated and need assistance in their daily lives. It is good to be intentional about building up support networks around an individual. This is especially important when you consider that parents worry about who is going to look out for their family member when they no longer can. A wide and growing support network is a key factor in keeping people supported and safe into the future.
1. Be in community
Support networks cannot grow without regular and consistent contact with a variety of people. If you and your family are intentional about being actively involved in your own community, it is the surest way to meet people and develop some connections. Join community clubs, sporting groups, faith communities, volunteer at community events, participate in play dates, car pools and shop locally. Some wise person once said ‘be the community you want to belong to’.
2. Be on the lookout for good people
Good people are out there and you need to keep an eye open for them. Take note of people who give a warm welcome, show an interest in your family member, have things in common with them and enjoy offering helpful assistance with things they are knowledgeable about. These people can be invited to become part of an informal support network when help or involvement is needed.
3. Be ready to invite a connection
You may need to be intentional about inviting others to have a role in your family member’s life. People may not see they have something to offer without a clear and direct invitation. Inviting others to be involved can be uncomfortable but it is important that people don’t become isolated. Read Ric Thompson’s article to learn how you can develop this skill.
4. Consider starting a circle of support
A circle of support is a more formalised strategy for drawing on freely given support to gather a group of people around a person with disability to meet regularly and assist them in developing and achieving their personal goals.