What Would I Want From A Support Planner?
Author: Liam Toner
This is a version of an article first published in Community Living magazine.
This question provides us with an interesting way to look at the role of the support planner and the support plan itself. I’ve worked as a support planner and have helped members of my close family to use personal budgets and this is what my dream support planner would be like.
Someone who knows me inside out
I know best about my life. I know what I like doing, what things annoy me and what things I find helpful. One of the major tasks support planners often do is to try to get to know the person and what they want from life. If I could choose I would have a support planner who already knew all this. Who had been with me on good days and bad and who knew what I wanted for the future. A support plan can be a really personal document sometimes and I’d much rather sit and talk to somebody who I’m close to about my past and my future, rather than another person coming into my home and asking me questions.
Someone who understands me
By “understands me” I really mean two things. The first is much the same as the point above. I want my support planner to share my perspective. This could either mean they have been through what I’ve been through or have been there with me when I’ve gone through it. Words can mean different things depending on your starting point so having that common starting point always helps. I don’t want my support planner to be sat there and the first thought in there head to be “well what about the cost pressures on the local authority”. The second meaning of “understands me” is more practical. I have idiosyncrasies which you wouldn’t pick up on unless you knew me well. My actions say as much about me as what I say. You could only pick up on this if you’d spent a long time with me. Some people have complex and subtle ways of communicating and my ideal support planner would know these and know how to respond appropriately.
Someone who is honest
This one should be self-explanatory. Key to a good support planner is someone who can tell the truth and does not shelter people from the realities of support planning. It’s not much to ask but for some it’s harder in practice then you’d think. If it was someone support planning with me I’d want them to remember that I’m a grown up. I may be unhappy with what I’m told but I need to be told it so I can make the right decision for myself.
Someone who I trust and who trust me
When support planning there might be times where personal and difficult conversations need to happen. My ideal support planner would be someone I trusted with intimate bits of information about myself. I would want a relationship with them of mutual respect where we trusted each other to be sensitive and treat each other with dignity. I would also want my support planner to trust me to make my own choices and decisions, to believe that I knew best about my life. This might mean not putting up barriers when I want to do risky things, it might simply mean taking a back seat when I want them to so I can lead the process. After all it’s my life, I want the best for me just as much as you do!
Someone who knows what’s going on in my community
My ideal support plan wouldn’t be full of day services and paid staff coming in to support me. Some people want this but it wouldn’t be my first choice. My support plan might have some of these in it if they were the best option for me but these would need to sit alongside the everyday ways I can be part of the world around me. My ideal support planner would be able to tap into this and help me make the most of the connections I bring with me. Community has two aspects, the places and the people. Firstly groups, locations, events and organisations which are in my local area which I can be a part of. This doesn’t need to be anything too formal. My ideal support planner would know things like that at my local pub they have a quiz on a Wednesday, so if I go down on a Wednesday there will be lots of people there and there will be something for me to join in with. By people the starting point would be my friends and family. Those people who are important in my life. They are the people I spend my weekends with, have around at in the evening, through whom I meet new friends. They are the people you meet in the community places who then become your personal community. I would want my ideal support planner to be able to see this and to support me to make the most of this. I’d much rather have a friend round to watch a movie then go to the cinema with a support worker.
Someone who understands the system well
This is a tricky one. Self Directed Support (SDS) can be bewildering. What’s the difference between CHC and social services funding? If I move into this home do I get supporting people or is that stopping? What about legacy services which receive some block funding, how will that work with my budget? How does this fit in with my welfare benefits? Why am I expected to pay a contribution? Why do different funding streams have different rules as to what I can spend my money on? What are the rules about what I can spend my money on? What counts as an eligible need? Why am I having to tell a dozen different people what seems to be the same information? What if the support I need costs more than my budget? Do I have a social worker and if not why not? Why is it taking so long? How do I stay in control? Where do you begin? This is just a taste of the type of questions SDS throws up. What I would want from a support planner was someone who could guide me through this in a way that made sense to me and took some of the stress out of it. Life is stressful enough without systems adding to it.
These are personal preferences but hopefully they chime with at least some of the things you’d want if you needed a support planner. Irrespective of the amount of support you might need being treated with respect and dignity by somebody who knows you well seems pretty universal. The question then is does such a person exist? Well I can think of at least 5 people in my life who fit my preferences. First there’s myself. I know me about as well as anyone could. I trust myself to make decisions; I know who is in my community and what’s important to me. I share the same standpoint as myself etc. I am my own ideal support planner. I might need a bit of help to get started or some person centred planning tools to help me work through it all but I’m the best placed person to plan out what my life should be like. Apart from me there’s my mum, my dad, my partner and my best friend. All of them would have the characteristics that would help me to make a support plan that truly captures me and takes advantages of my strengths and skills. Apart from people I already know I would look to people who’d been through the system themselves. If you’ve been through the system yourself you’re more likely to be able to properly empathise with me. You wouldn’t be in charge of the funding or have links to the people who do so I would trust you more to treat me like an equal and be honest with me.
Now if we look back at what I’d want from a support planner the only one my friends, family and peers don’t have on the whole is an in depth knowledge of the social care system. At the moment this is vital because of how complex and bureaucratic things seem to be. I don’t think my loved ones would know where to start. They are perfectly placed to help me plan my future but the system is set up in a way which by design makes its difficult if not impossible for them to be my support planner. The predominant form of support for people who are making a support plan is a professional support planner or broker. These are seemingly necessary because of this complexity but they wouldn’t be my first choice. Many support planners are great but they cannot know me as well as I or my close family and friends do.
Rather than creating a brokerage market place we should be looking at how we can make this system simpler and how we support people to plan for themselves. We should be supporting peer support and community groups and be offering training and support to families. Instead we seem to be employing support planners to deal with a problem which is of our own creating. For some, professional support planners and brokers will be the best option but at the moment for many they are the only option. Many of them are really good but if we made stuff simpler and easier people might be able to choose a bit more freely about who helps them through this important process.
If we thought a bit more about what we’d want from a support planner we might shift our emphasis a little towards enabling everyone to properly choose whether they support planned for themselves, or with their partner or community all of whom hit far more of my ideal criteria then a professional ever could.
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
What Would I Want From A Support Planner? © Liam Toner 2013.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.