This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum held online on 4 March 2021


Advocates stand alongside the person with disability to make sure that their voices are heard in all matters that affect them. However, skilling up people with disabilities to utilise choice and control,  takes time and is not currently recognised under current advocacy funding models.

Circles of Support are a process where intentional networks of people are built around a person with disability  to assist them in the creation of a good life in community and support their decision making through developing trusted relationships. Teresa Micallef is responsible for Building Community Networks at Belonging Matters. In this session, she shares her experience of the Circles of Support initiative including the positive outcomes for all involved in promoting decision making support,  as well as the limitations and challenges she encounters.

Links to resources mentioned in this presentation can be found at the bottom of this post.

Audio & Transcript


Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the last session of the March 2021 Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum. My name is Melissa Hale and I’m the co‑ordinator of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit.

Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

Once again we are delivering the Advocacy Sector Conversation Forum to you online. We hope at some stage to be able to deliver the series face to face when it’s safe to do so in an inclusive and accessible way, however we hope you have settled in and are ready for a fantastic series.

We encourage your active participation today. Please type your questions in the Q & A box and at the end I will facilitate a Q & A session with the presenter.

The last session for this series is around building community networks circles of support. Advocates stand alongside the person with a disability to make sure their voices are heard in all matters that affect them, however skilling up people with disability to utilise choice and control takes time and is not currently recognised under current advocacy funding models.

Circles of support are built around a person with a disability to assist them in creating a good life in community, and supporting their decision making through developing trusted relationships. Teresa Micallef was responsible for building community networks at Belonging Matters. In this session she will share her experiences of the circle of support initiative including the positive outcomes for all involved, promoting decision making support and limitations and challenges she encountered.

To step us through the process and how it works please welcome Teresa Micallef.

Thank you Melissa for the lovely introduction and for sharing a little bit about Circles of Support.

As way of introduction, I do head up the Circles of Support project here at Belonging Matters, which helps people with intellectual disability and/or Autism primarily set up a Circle of Support around themselves, which often includes family members, friends, and allies from the community.

I also facilitate, and we do that for about ten to 13 people at this point. I also facilitate a number of Circles of Support myself. So I’m in there doing that work with families and individuals and their networks. And I also do sit in on a Circle of Support in a voluntary capacity as a friend of a person.

So I guess I have been privileged enough to have involvement on a number of levels in relation to Circles. So I hope I can share some of that with you today. It would be lovely to have you all in person, as Melissa alluded to, perhaps one day.

I thought I’d start by telling you a little about Belonging Matters, who we are. You may or may not know about us, o very briefly, we’re a disability and family driven grass roots organisation. Our vision has always been a community strengthened by the inclusion of all people no matter where they come from, race, colour, creed, disability. The community is strengthened by the inclusion of all people. so that’s our premise and vision.

And our aim has become such, to actually prevent the exclusion of people with disability from their communities, and we do that in a number of ways. So the prevention of that because it still occurs, as you all know as advocates.

So we do this in a number of ways. And one of those is primarily, we primarily focus on capacity building – building the capacity, the knowledge, the understanding of people, individuals, families. A lot of the time we are working with intellectual disability and/or Autism and their families, but our work touches all people.

so we do that in terms of building people’s capacity, their understanding and knowledge of what’s possible. The focus is on belonging and community inclusion. It’s Such an important thing in people’s lives to simply belong to community, to be included.

The idea of inclusion is almost ridiculous for people who don’t experience exclusion, because you just are a part of the community, you just are a part of your workplace, home life, your school day, whatever it is that you spend your time doing. So what we have found, obviously with people with a disability, is this needs to be intensionalised. But that’s the work that we do, talk about that and we educate people along those lines.

We talk a lot about, and teach the idea of, typical opportunities and typical pathways so that people with disabilities are able to live a life of their choosing, in the way that they desire. And we are not around disability services or segregated or isolated settings, that’s not what we would be promoting. We’re promoting the typical life that each one of us aspires to have, and hopefully does have.

We talk a lot about valued roles and freely given relationships. And the idea of valued roles is paramount, because, in a way, it counters the wounding or the disempowerment that does occur with disabilities in community.

We help people focus on, and build valued roles for themselves in their life and also harness the powerful connection that freely given relationships is. And you’ll hear a bit about that in relation to Circle of Support. They are made entirely, generally, of people who are not paid, in somebody’s life, so the power of freely given relationships.

And again, in terms of advocacy, I’m sure you are aware of the power of that, where people work outside of systems, to some degree, and simply be and walk alongside people.

We also focus on individuals. We’re not working with groups or large institutions. We’re talking about one person at a time, individual people and individual life, and we may talk to people how they might create that, and how they might be supported to make decisions in the life of their choosing.

We offer a resource hub. So we have a lot of events, workshops, conferences, presentations like this, we too did a lot of webinars last year, and this year as well. And you can find all of that information on our website.

We have a number of publications, books that we promote because we think they’re good reads, periodicals that we have produced over many years, that are topical. So if there’s a particular topic you are interested in, you could look up a periodical and look up information specifically on that. And more recently we’ve developed tip sheets around, again, on certain topics.

We do personalise consultation and mentoring. That’s one of the roles I play here, along with our CEO, offering consultation to people sharing their stories, helping guide their way in terms of thinking around inclusion and what they might do in terms of their next steps in order to achieve that.

We do a lot of leadership development supporting people with disabilities and/or their families to become leaders in their community, to share their stories in order to inspire others trying to follow a similar path.

And, of course, we facilitate Circles of Support, which is also where I come in, and that project is called , Building Community Networks.

This is also an exceptionally good resource, Talks That Matter. For any of you who are interested in anything in relation to inclusion, or even around decision making, those kinds of things,. We have hundreds of free video clips of people’s lives, but also clips of presenters that have shared at our conferences and workshops and such. Many of them are free. You just go online and have a look at those.

We have then another section, a subscription section, but that’s quite cheap as well. That provides more material that you might be interested in, if you want to delve into some topics, from some very well‑known speakers as well. That’s Talks That Matter. I encourage you to look at that.

Let’s move on to circles of support.

The idea of a circle of support is not new. It’s a very old concept, the idea of us as human beings gathering, around a camp fire, gathering at events in people’s lives, gathering to share dreams, gathering to grieve, gathering, we gather as people. And so that concept is not a fabulously new idea, it’s rooted in our humanity.

The idea of a concept, and the concept of a Circle of Support, originated in Canada over 25 years ago. That’s where it was formalised a little more, and a little more focus then around the intentionality around supporting a person with a disability as well. And I’ll talk about that a little more later.

So a Circle of Support is, essentially, an intentional way of inviting people to come together in friendship, and support, of a person with a disability. All of the members of a circle of support are unpaid, and this is really important. Apart from, perhaps you might have a facilitator and they may have a paid function,, that’s certainly how it works in our project, but primarily most of those people in the circle are unpaid people. If they’re not, it becomes more like a staff team meeting, a therapy meeting, or something of that nature, and it loses its integrity in terms of a Circle of Support.

They’re certainly unique around every person. I facilitate five or six, Circles, and facilitated numerous over the years, they’re all different. Every single Circle is unique and different. The way that I work with a person within a Circle is unique and different because each person is different. And they do vary tremendously from person to person. You can read more about all of this in our Circles of support in issue 26 of our periodical, if you are interested.

Circles of support are not just a social gathering. They’re maybe a social component to them and there is, absolutely, people gather, have meals and share time together. But they’re not just that. They have a function and purpose and there’s a reason why people are getting together, and that’s important to note. They’re certainly not team meetings, or staff, or professional meetings, and I alluded to that earlier.

And they’re not a service response. This isn’t a service provision in the way of providing for a person with a disability in the way that we would traditionally think that happens in a disability service system. This is a unique and individual response to an individual based on who they are, and by the people around them, that love them, that care about them, that know them, and/or intentionally bringing people around them who may develop those types of relationships with an individual, that are unpaid.

They’re not a way to fix people or focus on deficit. That’s not the idea of a Circle. They are really there to harness people’s skills, strengths, wisdom and propel them to a life of their own choosing. And there’s certainly not a chance to talk about a person when they’re not around, or even in front of them when they are there. But rather, they are an opportunity to involve completely, and as much as possible, an individual in the decision making and the discussions, and the ideas and the brain storming, and the planning around their own life. They are at the centre of everything when you have a Circle of Support. It’s all about you, that person at the centre of that Circle.

Here’s just an image of the periodical that I mentioned, issue 26 of our circles of support. So there’s a number of stories in here, beautiful stories of people’s Circles of Support, of how they set them up, some of the troubles they faced along the way,. Some of their learnings, and such. So if you are interested in circles of support I encourage you to look at that periodical.

This is another important, or really good book, I would recommend people read. It’s called The Shouted Goodby by Jeremy Ward. This is the story of Mena, and she was a woman with significant disability, and her father has documented, I guess, the story of her life, some of the journey they took as a family in supporting her. She was one of the first children to move to, to be educated in a mainstream school in Queensland, and one of the first people to live in her own home in Queensland. All of that was supported by Circles of Support people, who her mother and father and herself drew towards her intentionally to assist her in some of those pivotal life periods, transitional times in her life.

As advocates, I think you would probably be very interested in the power of that. They moved mountains, essentially,, changed policy,, government regulations, all sorts of things, to enable Nina to live simply a life that everyone else had access to – to go to school and have her own home. But very powerful, the way the Circle came together to support her to do that, her and her family. It’s a beautiful read, if you get the chance to do that.

So Circles of Support as a concept, and then the idea of roles based practice is how BCN, Building Community Networks, which is what I help to manage here at belonging matters, that’s what we’ve combined, those two concepts, in order to create this idea of building community networks and running and facilitating, these Circles of Support with people.

Roles based practice focuses on creating and maintaining valued social roles for people who are often marginalised in society and not offered the same opportunities as other citizens. so in this case, we’re talking about people with disability.

The value of focussing on valued roles is that, like I said earlier, it can counter some of the negative impact of that discrimination, and things like that have on the life of a person, and the wounding that can occur because of that. So we focus on that, entirely, in terms of the work we do around Circles of Support at Belonging Matters. And valued roles give us access to the good things in life, and the good things in life are universal.

If you ask that question, and we do often in workshops, people talk about the same things. They talk about home, love, financial security, relationships,, community, all of these things that are valued in our life, the, good things in life. And when someone has a valued role they’re more able to access those good things. And when they don’t, they’re less able to, as unfortunately we see as well in our society.

Valued roles are important in forming our identity, you know, our sense of worth, our sense of purpose, our self‑esteem, all of these really important things, can be built and grown through how we take up valued roles in our lives. And if you just think for a moment, for yourself, about all of the valued roles that you may take up, and the importance of that, how it holds you in stature and how it makes you feel, and how you are as a person, and how you grow in confidence etc. because of those. That’s what we are talking about.

That’s what we are trying to intentionally bring in to the lives of people we work with, and that we support, in our Circles work. It also has a big impact on how we see ourselves. And also how others view us. So if somebody in a valued role is generally viewed quite highly, for example, so they’re just clues, to why we work with valued roles as well as Circles of Support

Here’s a little example, I’ll tell you about Deanne, her story. There’s a picture there of people gathering in her home. She’s having a Circle of Support meeting there being facilitated,and she has family and friends, her uncle, Mum and Dad, an ex-support worker etc. The people in that room there are a Circle of Support helping her make decisions and grow.

some of the outcomes that we’ve seen for her over the years, is the idea of her, for example, her business development – actually that’s been the biggest thing. You can see the images here (can you believe it), designs and a card, that she makes and now sells. so the circle of support have been imperative in her setting that up, and I’ll talk to you a little bit more about how that happened in the next slide.

But now she lives in her own home, she’s a host, she’s organised meet and greet your neighbours days,, she’s had barbecues to try to introduce herself to her local tenants in the apartment building that she’s in. She loves baking cakes and entered competitions at the Melbourne Show, for example, to do that kind of thing and she’s done a lot of fund raising in numerous places, had pamper nights, girls nights, in order to raise money. She’s very fond of that – wanting to contribute in that way, to community. So that’s just a snapshot about what is possible – creating a business of her own, moving into her own home, doing fun run with her family and friends, her Circle. All of this has come about because of this Circle of Support.

So I’ll give you an example of how this happens.
And how the idea of thinking about valued roles, in the context of that, is important.

Dee has an interest in art, she absolutely loves arts and crafts, that kind of thing. She also has an interest in people, she’s a very social woman and she’ll make friends and connect with people, particularly in the in the street of shops near where she lives. Everybody knows her. So we know that about her and we focussed on her interest.

We, as in her Circle of Support have done this work, focussed on her interest in art and her interest in socialising and being with people. Then people in that Circle of Support helped her to brainstorm ideas. OK, let’s think about all the roles you could take up if you’re an artist, you like people, what could this look like? So brainstorming and thinking, and coming up with ideas, and Dee’s a part of all that as well as saying yes or no to those ideas.

Finally, this idea lands that she would like to make and sell greeting cards. so she was part of all of that decision making, all of the brain storming around that. And then decides, “yes I’m interested in that, let’s follow that idea”.

So that grows in to the role of becoming a business owner, creating and selling greeting cards in her local community where she can go and meet people, talk to all of these people she used to talk to with no real purpose. Now she has a purpose. She has cards of immense value, they’re, beautiful cards, and she can go and sell them. So she has a valued role in her community.

And if you look at the second little chart there, some of these are important things in terms of social role valorisation, which is another thing, very important principles that under lie the work we do at belonging matters.

So for example, that Dee presents with such a positive, you know, her appearance is positive. She has a uniform T‑shirt with her logo design on it when she goes out to sell her cards. She has valued imagery around her cards – her cards are beautifully hand crafted and designed, they’re top quality cards – and the designs have all been made by her and reproduced for the use of card sales.

She’s undertaking valued activities in her community. Here a photo that you may or may not be able to see. , She’s showing her cards to some customers in her local strip of shops potentially to sell or to have at the store for them to on sell her cards at the store. She’s also in valued settings. She’s selling her cards at the local bank and she’s around other people in valued roles.

So all of this is exceptionally important. She’s not segregated in a day program somewhere stuck doing an art and craft activity, whilst she would enjoy that activity, this is beyond that. This is about her having a meaningful purposeful role in her community that still allows her to participate in art and craft type activities for the purpose of running her own business, and making a bit of income, meeting people, being a business woman. So there’s a big difference there.

And I just want to acknowledge Judith snow in the work of Circles of Support. Judith was,, way back when she initiated essentially the idea of a circle of friends was brought about, she was a 28 year old woman living in the geriatric ward of a hospital. She was intelligent and studying, at the time, at a university. And her friends Marcia and Jack, when they discovered the living conditions that she was in, were appalled. So what they did was come around her and create a Circle of friends around her that were able to advocate on her behalf. She was one of the first women in Canada that enabled individual funding in order to live in her own home with the support that she required to sustain her life.

I’ll just read a quote from Judith snow:

“Most significantly, Circles are powerful because they exist to honour, support and make available a person’s capacities and interests, not his or her deficits. Support circles are formed to be vehicles for people to discover and to talk about ways in which a person could be contributing to the wider community through, often over looked interests, and talents.”

So we thank her for her initial work and then as a succession from that,, the leading in to the idea and the concept of circles of support, and they have spread around the world now.

So I’m going to show you in a moment, a story of a circle of support in operation. This will be Brodie’s circle of support. And you can view this again in your own time, at either the COSAM website or our website, Talks That Matter. The COSAM website were partially involved with the funding of the filming of this project and we filmed it. So you can see some more information about Circles of Support on their website as well.

So let’s play Brodie’s video and enjoy his story.


So I hope you enjoyed the opportunity to dive in to the intimacy of a circle of support and its potential. You saw there so many opportunities for Brodie to be assisted in making decisions about his life. And that’s coming into full fruition in all areas of his life now.

some of the other benefits, for example, he’s become a student, not only of the music course, he’s also undertaken a hospitality and has just finished a personal training course. He’s a young man and he’s exploring lots of options in terms of his interests. He’s, a class mate and a friend an employee. He was an assistant landscaper, he’s participated as an employee at a sporting stadium food outlets.

He’s a church member. Now that’s an interesting progression in terms of his decision making over time. That was a movement his mother didn’t have any involvement in at all. Most of the other things she’s had a part in supporting and helping him make decisions, but that came through a relationship he had with other young men his age. And he’s become a full member of a church community that he loves, and that he’s thriving in.

He participates and helps out, and goes to social gatherings and all that stuff, and that, through, over time, making decisions more and more and more he’s been able to just set up stuff himself in his own life without the support of key people in his life which is just tremendous.

He’s a gym member and body builder now. He’s also a Tennant and a housemate, and that was a big project that the Circle assisted him with as well, in how to think about, and think through, how do I live in my own home, where do I want to live, who do I want to live with, how does that look, all of those things. he’s also become a leader, a presenter, and a board member.

So you can see lots of rich and valued roles have come from his involvement with a circle of support. I’ll show you in another slide, he was in a day program not that long ago.

So some of the benefits that we’ve seen for numerous other people with disabilities, many people have left day programs and now, instead, enjoy a real life in their community. Some of them have set up businesses and some of them have found employment. They’ve become more involved and engaged in their own life, and that’s what I was describing with Brodie how we’ve seen him do that more over time, saying yes to things, saying no to things, having his voice heard and creating opportunities for himself in his own life.

People have begun to enjoy the meetings more and had more comfort with them, and we are talking about people with significant need, in some of these contexts, where some people couldn’t sit around the kitchen table, or coffee table in the lounge, that was way too much for them. But over time, they’re contributing now,, attending meetings, they’re making contributions, they’re signing.

So really important changes are happening because people are valued, they’re listened to, and action comes them. And they’re not people talking about them or trying to make decisions on their behalf. The things that occur in a circle meeting are validated, informed and empowered by the individual themself and, hence, if something comes out of that it’s of real value. They can make the connection and see the worth of it.

Benefits for families include, but are not limited to, are certainly people being afraid to ask people to join the Circle, but realiseing, actually that people did come and they were really quite honoured to be invited into a Circle of Support.

Siblings areespecially glad to be involved and starting the conversation about what happens when mum and dad are no longer here, for example. The  emergence, then, of the safeguard for that future. The future of an individual with an intellectual disability, Howard they going to continue to make decisions in the long term, how is the vision going to be held with them, and for them, into the future when the parents are no longer there.

And Circle members, lots of benefits, people bon. The bond together on the vision and also on the journey. And you heard about Dee, the lovely gathering they had at a fun run. They had a terific day out together raising money for one of the children’s hospitals.

People sharing ideas, having connections and getting practical assistance from each other. So it’s all about the circle, focus person, the person at the centre, but also every Circle member benefits from their participation in the circle. People have fun together, they create relationships, friendships are formed, and people generally feel exceptionally privileged to be part of Circle because it makes a difference in someone’s life

Some of the other benefits is that an ongoing structure and facilitation can help hold a vision for an inclusive life and keep people on track. That’s been a really powerful benefit. Some circles have taken on an interest in some of the detailed work around such things as NDIS planning or how to bring on support staff, or some of this kind of thing, getting very intricate – how to help someone move into their own home – huge areas in someone’s life. They certainly are a very real way for people to be assisted with making day‑to‑day decisions and also big life decisions.

One young woman I worked with around moving in to her own home, and the conversations, the lively discussions, the debate that occurred at a circle meeting and her expressing her unhappiness where she was living, which was a shared living arrangement with other people with disabilities. Through that ongoing dialogue, that circle was able to assist her to move in to her own home with house mates that didn’t have disability. And she’s flourishing, thriving and exceptionally happy young woman now because of that.  So it’s a big life decision and the Circle was pivotal in assisting her eto manage and to make, to make happen, in her life. hapen

So circles can certainly help people make unique choices, respect and regard the person for who they are, an they are at the centre of the Circle of Support. So people are seen as unique and whole and not seen just for their disability. People consider them worthy of attention and inclusion. The person has purposed a meaningful and inclusive life. These are all important things about being respected, that a Circle should uphold, and certainly empowering people.

The individual has valued roles and is not treated as a second class citizen, certainly not devalued. In fact, the actions taken by the Circle and the decisions they help a person make, would be to counter that devaluation, as I’ve talked about, to create valued and meaningful life and roles for a person. Their roles align with their chronological age and interest. They are not treated as children if they’re not. Their Circle puts them in the centre of the conversation, the centre of decision making.

And you heard that in Brodie’s story. Conversation, discussion, dialogue happening, and then throwing it back to him. What do you think? What would you like? What are your thoughts? And then they proceed from there so it’s a very important function. People who actually care about me, love me, are in my life by choice, they’re the ones that are helping me make my decisions and they’re the ones that are helping me to uphold my vision for a good life.

And that is not dissimilar to anybody, people who don’t have a disability. People have people in their lives. We are all interdependent on others, we do all listen to the opinions, ideas, values of our peers, our colleagues, our friends, our families, our partners, they all contribute to the mix. Then we will make a decision about something, our life. And a Circle is exactly like that. It’s just an intentional way of bringing people together around someone.

So making choices, a little bit about how this might happen. People are informed about choices through supported decision making within a Circle of Support. For example, I’ll show you the image down the bottom there, Brodie went to a day centre. He was in a day program for many, many years – out of school, that is just where he was funnelled into. Before the idea of a Circle of Support, he didn’t know any different, he was just going to be doing that. That day centre would have been where he was, probably for numerous years.

At the time, if you would have asked him, “do you want to stay here?”, he probably would have said, “yeah, I’m pretty happy”. And he did. He had a couple of friends, people I’m friendly with and I know the woman who runs it, it’s alright, I do a little bit of music. But that was it. There was nothing else.

What we were able to show him, through conversations and involvement as a Circle, was the ‘more’ of that life. And now that he’s got the ‘more’ of that life – he’s been to TAFE, he’s got other friends, he’s had work, he moved into his own home – he looks back at that time in that day centre as debilitating. He can see the difference now.

Informed choices can often be about trying, tasting and reflecting. Giving people the opportunity to try and taste at life because they may not have had the experience that can lead them to make a good decision in the first place. It involves listening to people, to what they say, but also what they don’t say. To listen to their hesitation, their fear, their concern but also offering something that’s new, something that’s beyond what they may be able to imagine for themselves. They can progress, grow, change, explore life.

Also having high expectations for development, growth, inclusion, is pivotal and it’s a really important part of the Circle’s work that we do. What happens is that people learn to make choices, and they become empowered through a process of creating a good life for themselves through a process of having a Circle of Support – having people around them who are helping them make decisions for every step along that way, from every day decision to bigger life decisions.

Someone like Brodie has now moved on from this image here, where he was gardening. That was a great opportunity but he didn’t want to be a gardener. He didn’t want to do that job. He had a go at it, he wanted to try it, but then he realised that, “it’s not for me”. He got to make that choice and move on to something else.

He’s had experience in valued activities at TAFE, numerous courses that he’s trying. He’s had employment. He’s had opportunity to grow and develop his skills. He’s also around other people who are in valued settings and valued roles. That final picture there is him with his personal trainer who also acts now really, as a mentor in terms of him, as a young man, achieving/aspiring to be a body builder. And he is a very buff young man at the moment!

He’s been making, and learning how to make choices as he progresses and grows through the involvement in his Circle of Support.

Here’s just a quote to ponder:

“Support Circles are a very powerful strategy for inviting ordinary people to walk alongside, focus on, and make a commitme to people with disability and their families, as they dream, plan and achieve the lives that they want.”

And that’s thanks to Marg Rogers from CRU in Queensland. We have colleagues from numerous states that do some good work within this area as well.

So just a few tips I wanted to share with you, as advocates to consider. Firstly, is a Circle of Support the right idea for you or for the person you know? How are they going to be educated about Circles of Support? Because if it’s done badly, they can be terrible. So how do you educate people about them and how do you do them well? How would you empower someone to set up a Circle of Support? So that’s just some questions to ponder.

Here are some tip sheets that we have. I would like to let you know about those because there is a number of them on Circles of Support. So you can just go to our website if you want some more tips and tricks around Circles.

And just quickly, I’ll talk very briefly about facilitation because, we have found, to be quite an important piece in the development of a Circle of Support. With good facilitation, all the good stuff will happen and if you’ve got poor facilitation, or no facilitation, a Circle may not have the same outcomes that I’ve been talking about today.

Good facilitation will keep the person at the centre , they will listen to and engage the person, help them make decisions, focus and encourage and enable the voice of that person with the disability. They’ll check in with them about decisions constantly, and they’ll help the Circle figure out ways to enable those decisions and ideas that have come forth, to turn them into actions and how to make that action happen for a person.

There are some limitations to Circles. They are not the be all and end all. They do take a bit of effort and work. I wouldn’t have a Circle just for the sake of it. I would consider it very definitely because it takes a lot of effort to go into that. You certainly not want to lose sight of the person and be talking about the person. You don’t want poor values and vision embedded within a Circle of Support. That’s why that facilitation , people with strong values, is important

You certainly wouldn’t want it to be service driven. You don’t want it to become a staff or team meeting. We had a beautiful Circle of Support set up and then a Support Coordinator came in, with all the right intentions, but came in and pretty much railroaded it. Started talking about service delivery, therapy supports, all of this kind of stuff. It took the focus away from the individual. So big caution there.

To think that a Circle can meet every need, they can’t. They’re not the answer to everything. Be aware of dominance by one member of the Circle and the willingness of members to take on tasks and challenges. That’s important. You need people to be able to say “yes” to things.

Certainly you don’t want the organisation to be left to one person, and in the case of some of the Circles that I work with, that can sometimes be the mother. So figuring out ways for that not to happen is important. They do take commitment and energy but they are certainly worth it.

You do need to think about succession planning. People will come and go in someone’s Circle but it’s so important to invest in relationship forming that is real and unpaid. It will safeguard people into the future.

Sometimes Circles need a bit of redesigning so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes they don’t work. If they don’t, you need to consider why they don’t. Reinvest, reengage in the purpose and rethink who the membership is and think about how it’s being facilitated. Start again, redesign.

Some acknowledgments there. You can have a look at that. There’s a new guide that we’ll be writing and releasing soon on Circles of Support. So if you’re interested, you can let us know and we’ll send you that. We also have a very comprehensive resource list about Circles of Support. So again, if your interested, if you’d like more information, please just email me and I’ll let you know and can send you those things.

Couple of questions to you as the audience. I hope that you feel that you know more about Circles of Support as a result of this session, or that you’ve gained skills and knowledge. Also I hope that you would consider sharing information with people in future.

But there you go. If you’d like more information after, there’s our email there and you can contact me directl, Theresa. Just ask for Theresa or talk about Circles and I’ll get that information.

So I think we want to hand over to questions now. Thank you for your time.

Thank you very much it was really useful. decision making support is a really pressing topic in the advocacy sector at the moment. We’re experiencing so many issues particularly around decision making support in the NDIS where participants need support but there’s no-one available to help them to make decisions. And often it’s left to the over stressed advocacy sector to try to fill the gaps.


But I think before we go to questions, the first thing to highlight is the recording of this session and the slides, associated with it, will be available on the DARU website. So make sure you keep your eye out for that.

We have time for a few questions, so I’ll go to the first one.

Where can we participate in facilitator training? This seems to be an exceptionally practical and beneficial program.

It’s a very good question. We certainly provide some training around facilitation. We call it ‘conversations that matter’ so we generally often run a two day workshop. So hat’s one way.

Facilitation skills is a skill unto themselves. There are numerous facilitation courses that people could take up to learn that skill. But you want to be matching that skill with really good values. I guess that’s what we do here at Belonging Matters, we match the skill with the values. We try to teach people to become facilitators, but also have really solid values towards a better life. SRV training is a must for any worker or contractor that we bring on.

But, yeah, facilitator training in and of itself, can be accessed through a number of different areas so just Google. We’ve used Creative Facilitation Training through Viv McWaters in Geelong. She’s a consultant and does some online work. You could look her up as a starting point.

Thanks. Next question.

In thinking about dignity of risk, how does a Circle of Support program make sure that the person with disability still has the choice of their decisions that other people in their lives won’t stop them doing?

Yeah, well a Circle of Support is built on the premise that it’s people around the individual that do care about them deeply and so that’s a built in mechanism to some degree. But what we have seen, I’ll give you an example, a young woman who had talked already with her family about having more financial control over her finances.

Her parents had hesitancy and resistance, uncertainty about that, because of the risk with her perhaps overspending or mismanaging her own money. What happened, though, was that she was able to talk to me as the facilitator of her circle of Support about that. I asked her permission if we could talk about that in her Circle of Support and she said yes.

So what we did was, essentially, open that up for debate and discussion in her Circle. The result of that’s such that her parents actually saw what an important decision she was making and what an important appeal this was, that she was having over her own life. Every other Circle member agreed with her and suggested that her parents let her do this. And then we discussed how.

How are we going to do this in a safe way that she’s not going to put herself at risk financially. And we discussed it and they, from that point, helped her to do that. She’s now managing a lot of her money online which was unheard of two years ago. That was not an option for her in her life.

So the Circle, so that’s the mechanism, you build trusted relationships with the individual. She trusted me enough to come to me with that and I trusted the Circle and her family enough to raise that as an open conversation, and we came to an agreement and it changed her life.

Fantastic. Next one, I think this will be the last one.

How can a Circle of Support be set up around someone who has no clear relationships outside of services in their lives? No family or friends?

That’s a really big question and I don’t necessarily know the answer to that. We haven’t done a lot of work in that space but, what I do know about that is, that if you can find one person, support a person to find one person who is invested in their life, then that’s the start. From there you can engage. I would look at engaging people based on their interest and based on the purpose of their Circle.

So you are essentially asking community members to come in and be a part of their Circle and to make a commitment to that. So I would ask for, probably a year’s commitment from an individual – this is Tom. Tom’s interested in this. This is what Tom would like to achieve. We think you would be a good member on his Circle of Support for these reasons… You might share the same interest. You might have particular expertise in an area he’s trying to achieve. So we’d like to invite you, would you be committed to that, would you be willing.

If you can gather 2 or 3 people to start with, that will be be changing people’s lives. If they’re unpaid, if they’re genuinely there because they want to be. It would take a bit of work but it’s about scoping community, focussing on their interest, focussing on the purpose of the Circle, what you’re trying to achieve and then trying to find the community member that best fits that.

It’s not another person who has need themselves, it’s not just service providers. However, in the case where somebody really doesn’t have, you know, if it’s a big thing, you could even start there. Get those service providers around the table to find the unpaid people to come in. Not for them to be ongoing in the Circle, but they may be initially form a brainstorming hub about how are we going to get unpaid people in this person’s life? So yea, you could start there.

Yea, it’s a tricky one.

Thank you for sharing your expertise today. It’s really, um, there are so many different issues and ways of approaching it. I commend the work you are doing and really appreciate your time today. So thank you very much.

It’s a pleasure Melissa and thanks for the invitation. I hope it’s been of some use to people. So yeah, feel free to connect if you’re interested more.

Thanks a lot.

Thank you.

We’ve come to a close for the final session this week. Thank you to the Auslan interpreters and captioners for their hard work today and this week. Thank you to show division for the production today. Thank you for joining us everyone and we will see you next time.