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Practice Statement: Natural Supports

Connection to a natural support network of family, close friends and other stakeholders provides people with a sense of security and a safety net. We assist people to maintain existing relationships and to stimulate potential new connections wherever possible.

Practice Definition: Natural Supports

What would be observed in practice:

  • People have the support and resources to develop, enhance or renew relationships, eg Skype, emails, cards, letters, phone calls etc
  • People are assisted to access the supports that will enable them to maintain connections to people in their support network
  • People who have lost contact with family members, friends or stakeholders are supported to re-establish communication and develop their circles of support.
  • People negotiate the extent and frequency of contact with family, friends and stakeholders

Role-based Resources

Residential Staff

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the nature of relationship between acquaintances, close friends, family and natural supports. What do they mean to you in your own life?
  2. Watch the first video and then map the natural supports for one person in the house. What barriers to relationship building do the people in the house face that you don’t?
  3. How do we support people in the house to maintain and develop their natural support relationships? What more can we do? (The blog has a number of strategies that might be useful.)
  4. What is the difference between a support worker and a friend? As a support worker why is it important to make space in peoples’ lives for friends outside of paid staff?



Self Reflection:

  • Think about all the people in your life; – friends and family are the first who come to mind but also think about co-workers, neighbours, and people you’ve met at clubs or at church among other places. Relationships with these people are your natural supports! Who has been instrumental in pivotal points in your life, or whom can you count on for help? What did you do to establish those relationships?
    Make a few notes to discuss in the group.




Community Services

Discussion Questions

  1. Discuss the relationship between acquaintances, close friends, family, co-workers and natural supports. What roles do they play in your own life?
  2. How do we involve natural supports in the person’s activities (e.g. planning, reports, open days, conversations, and emails)? Is there more we can or should be doing?
  3. If a person doesn’t have any natural supports what can we do to help them find some?
  4. What is the difference between a support worker and a friend? As a support worker why is it important to make space in peoples’ lives for friends outside of paid staff?



  • Read the story below and consider the roles that Shelby’s family and employer (both of whom are natural supports) have played in supporting her to work successfully. How can staff encourage the natural supports present in peoples’ lives to support them in terms of goal achievement?
  • Shelby has been the “number one fan” of the LaCrosse Loggers college-league baseball team since it formed in 2003, rarely missing a home game even though she lives an hour from the park. Ruth and Dan—co-owners of the team—always made it a point to chat with Shelby and her parents at home games over the years.So when Shelby approached her 18th birthday and started thinking about her “dream job,” working with the Loggers naturally came to mind. Shelby’s father, John, approached Ruth about a possible job for Shelby“I thought about it and it came to me, maybe we can find things for her to do before the games, so she can work and then still watch the games later,” Ruth says. Ruth knew that certain areas of the park could use more attention than employees currently could provide.She developed a task list and laminated it, listing everything she would expect Shelby to learn to do. She then walked Shelby through every job, demonstrating how to do each one.Meanwhile, Shelby’s mother, Wanda, alerted school staff that Shelby would be starting a paid position in May with the Loggers. Julie, a special education teacher, worked with Shelby toward the end of the school year, foreshadowing the types of expectations employers have for workers and discussing important skills like being responsible and completing tasks thoroughly.Shelby wanted her mom to stay with her during a shift at first. But within two or three games, she no longer wanted her mother to stay and she didn’t need the laminated card. She also worked at the same rate as other employees at the park. Shelby needed little other supports. That may be, in part, because she already had performed a variety of unpaid work experiences through her high school, including job shadowing, volunteering, and unpaid work experiences for school credit. Her teachers set up experiences at a local hospital, a resale store, and an elementary school.

    The early experiences, Wanda says, helped Shelby learn related skills that are important to successful employment, like taking responsibility and interacting socially with customers and the general public. The specific tasks at the jobs, such as pricing items at the resale shop, also helped strengthen Shelby’s math and reading skills.

    “As Shelby’s family, we are 100% supportive of Shelby’s working outside of and in school, and we are working to help her achieve her dreams for her career,” Wanda says. This includes support from her parents in taking her to every home baseball game last season, and from her younger sister, who is eager to hear about Shelby’s work successes and cheer her on.

    Wanda says that part of the reason the Loggers job has been so important to Shelby, is that her co-workers and the fans are so supportive of her and include her as “one of the gang.” That stems from Ruth’s emphasis on creating a sense of community and togetherness among the staff. “I always tell the kids at the park that I want this to be more than McDonald’s for them. ‘I don’t want this to be your summer job; I want it to be a summer experience.’”

    Shelby and all the seasonal workers are included in staff meetings, and Ruth creates a collage of pictures of the staff working that she frames and gives to each employee at the end of the summer. Of course, Shelby was right in the middle of this year’s picture.

    “I like being with the people and being around baseball,” Shelby says. “I’ve made lots of friends. I feel comfortable there.”

    Ruth says Shelby has been such a responsible employee that she would hire her back every summer. She also is confident that Shelby’s responsibilities could expand. “I know if I put her in a staff shirt and assigned her to additional tasks, she would know where to go for answers if customers wanted to know where the bathrooms are or if a kid threw up, where to find a clean-up crew. She knows this park inside out and she has good customer service skills,”

    But Ruth acknowledges it’s completely Shelby’s decision. She may not be willing to give up watching those games.

  • Adapted from: http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/naturalsupports/pdfs/YS.pdf

Hub and Support Staff

Discussion Questions

  1. What role do your family, friends and other natural supports serve in your life? Why are they important to you?
  2. People with disabilities, especially those that access or live in segregated services, tend to have far less natural supports than able people. Discuss some of the barriers that people with disabilities face in creating relationships? What are the costs of isolation (for the individual and society)?
  3. How can your team support the people you do interact with and frontline staff to enable relationship development within and without Spectrum Care?

Managers and Coordinators

Discussion Questions

  1. What expectations do we place on frontline staff to support the development of a natural support network for each person? Especially for people who don’t have any natural supports.
  2. What are the barriers and what support can we give to frontline staff to enable this?
  3. Discuss any recent success stories that can be highlighted in organisation-wide communications (and pass on to Justin)
  4. How can we foster an environment where natural supports feel welcome and connected with the people?

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