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How a Circle of Support works in practice

The following is a fictitious case study based on a compilation of similar real-world incidents as reported by initiatives such as the Up, Up and Away Project.

Prudence Mitchell is a middle-aged woman with an intellectual disability. Until recently she lived with her family in a small country town. Her parents enjoyed her company and made sure she was active participant in the local community. However when Pru’s mother Dorothy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s her father found it increasingly difficult to care for both his daughter and wife. Pru was at risk of losing her family, her home and her independence.

Pru’s sister Linda offered to have Pru live with her, but her father Stan was adamant it was too much to ask and refused to talk with Linda and her husband about the possibility of Pru living with them. Instead, he continued to shut out all offers of assistance and slowly over time the family became increasingly isolated and his own health was placed in jeopardy.

At first, Linda felt helpless and wasn’t sure who to turn to or how she should help her father adjust to the family’s changed circumstances. The only possible alternative accommodation for her sister was in a group home over one hundred kilometers away. It was not however what Pru or anyone in the family wanted. Pru wanted to live with her sister, but Stan was adamant he could cope and that he wouldn’t change his mind. It was only when Dorothy needed to be placed in a nursing home that Stan, worn down and exhausted, became open to the possibility.

Through Stan’s contacts Linda was able to meet with another family who had faced a similar crisis – both parents dying unexpectedly and leaving behind an adult child with a disability. The family told Linda how it was only because they had in place a circle of support that they were able to survive the enormity of the crisis and keep their sister living in the family home.

Linda realised she too needed to be pro-active and once Stan was open to the possibility of her sister living with her suggested to her father they set up a circle of support. Her father agreed and Pru helped choose who she wanted – someone to teach her how to use Facebook, someone willing to walk around the park with her twice a week and someone to go to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon - surprising everyone with her maturity and understanding of what it was they were trying to achieve, of what a ‘good’ life might look like.

Eventually with her father’s blessing Pru did move out of home and live with Linda and her family. What happened next though surprised them all. Pru decided she wanted to live on her own in her own home.

Fortunately her family and her circle of support shared her dream and three years on she is living in her own unit, a ten-minute walk from Linda’s. Stan, who’d never thought his daughter would even manage the transition to living with her sister, is one of her most vocal supporters. And every second Sunday when Linda takes him over to enjoy a family roast cooked by Pru he is continually inspired by his daughter and her achievements. He also knows it would never have happened had Linda not taken the first step and created what they now call their ‘family’.