Relationships, Circles, Networks

An Introduction

Relationships are important in everyone’s life. This is true for many reasons: for staying safe, for figuring out some of life’s decisions, for feeling strong enough to try new things or to make a change, and simply for having good connections in our neighbourhoods and community. We have been talking about relationships, friendships, and networks for years in Windsor and Essex County. This has been emphasized with stories and resources shared during the My Home My Choice events. Each of us have all kinds of relationships. This includes those who are closest to us, like family or friends. It also includes the people we see at the places we go – same time, same place – often called natural supports; and includes the people we invite to be part of an intentional Support Circle.

Natural supports are the people in the community who help out just by being there. They are not necessarily friends but they sure make life easier. For example: your hairdresser or barber, the person at the take-out counter of your favourite coffee place, or the vendor at the market. Support Circles, also sometimes called Networks of Support, are about the intentional presence of family, friends, and others in our lives, the important relationships we have; those who care about our well-being, happiness, and the quality of our lives.  Support Circles purposefully created for people with disabilities are an excellent way to ensure a safe and secure future.

To read more about any of these topices you are interested in, click on the title links in blue.

Table of Contents for this page:

  • Favourite Picks
  • Connecting and Building Relationships
  • Support Circles, Networks of Support 
  • Stories and Videos

Favourite Picks

Intentional Inclusion: Cultivating Circles of Support                                                                        This title link leads you to a video recording and handouts from an excellent webinar with Janice Fialka and Emma Fialka-Feldman.  Think College hosted this webinar on April 2, 2020.  You will see “parent (Janice) and sibling (Emma) talk about how they have used Circles of Support with their son and brother . . . . Learn what (and who!) makes up a Circle of Support.  . . . Get valuable tools to invite people, host Circles gatherings, and keep things going.”  Now more than ever, we need intentional circles and networks of support!

Relationship building: Let’s start with just one thing (A Power Point)                                             A power point presentation by Windsor-Essex Family Network and the My Home My Choice initiative in Windsor-Essex. It is full of ideas for taking a small first step to building relationships. Many of us may not realize that we already are working on relationship building in small ways, or that there are some easy things we can start with and not feel overwhelmed. This power point looks at how we might take on just one small manageable thing, and also look at going to the same time, same place for meeting others. It can help you figure out what your one ‘small thing’ will be, and, maybe set further goals for the future.

Connecting and Building Relationships

101 Ways to Make Friends: Ideas & conversation starters for people with disabilities & their supporters  This book is a favourite of people and families. It is available for borrowing from the lending library at Windsor-Essex Family Network. Authors Susan Kurliak and Aaron Johannes have generated a list of useful tips for making, keeping and deepening relationships having met with many people with disabilities and their families. This book contains ideas with graphics about how folks with disabilities create and foster relationships with friends, family and their communities. Plain language, easy to read, graphic format.

The Art of Asking, By Rick Thompson                                                                                                   This paper looks at: “What does it take to ask, and to enhance our skills in the art of asking? . . . (David) Schwartz identified that one of the major reasons why individuals with a disability continue to be excluded from the richness and diversity of community is that we have simply failed to ask community members to both welcome and support people with a disability to be of their community. . . . John McKnight adds further to this stating. . . effective community builders need to know not just why they are asking but who to ask, how to ask, when to ask, and where to ask. As askers, we need to be ask prepared.” Community Resource Unit, Occasional Paper No.3, June 2005

Relationships, Circles, Networks, 2021- Info & Resource List                                                           A local My Home My Choice publication containing relevant information and a description of resources (Books and DVDs) to inspire and support people in Windsor-Essex along the journey to an everyday life as a citizen. All resources listed are available for borrowing from the lending libraries at Windsor-Essex Family Network and Windsor Essex Brokerage for Personal Supports. Some of the book titles: It’s Never Too Early, It’s Never Too Late by Beth Mount and Kay Zwernik; From Behind the Piano \ What’s Really Worth Doing and How to Do it by Jack Pearpoint and Judith Snow; Building Circles of Support and Friendship by Jan Burke-Gaffney; Pathways to Inclusion by John Lord and Peggy Hutchinson; and more.

Connecting people and building social relationships                                                                         An article, by Deb Rouget from the Voice-The Journal for Down Syndrome Australia, that gathered ideas of ways for people to get connected and to build social relationships in their communities. Quote from the document: “It is impossible for people to develop a range of social relationships without being present in the community and being recognised for their unique personality and contribution. Social relationships emerge from sharing common interest and on focusing on how we all build associations and friendships.”

Circles of Friends/Circles of Support  (A variety of resources at Inclusion Press)                           “Circles of Friends or Circles of Support have been in every society since the dawn of time. We are wired for belonging, connection and being in relationship with one another. ‘Circles’ is about how we take care of each other in families and communities. It is the ‘structure’ of our relationships.” There exists a wealth of resources on Circles of Support, friendship circles, relationships and connections, and more at Inclusion Press. To see what’s available go to the Circles of Friends/Support webpage by following the title link above.

Support Circles, Networks of Support

When it comes to the concept of Support Circles and Networks of Support, it is not about the exact terms or words we use. Different people, places and countries will use different phrases when it comes to intentionally creating a Support Circle or Network of Support. You will see different titles and phrases used in the resources below. Networks of Support, Circles of Support, Personal Networks are a few examples. It is more important to think about the intention, purpose and the function we hope for in the end – rather than the terms that are used. We believe that you will find some interesting and supportive documents, resources and links below — something for everyone’s style and learning approach. 

Support Circles,  by Gillian Chernets                                                                                                 This document, developed by Gillian Chernets, a strong family leader and advocate from Ontario, was shared with families in Australia at a conference and is available for download from that conference. It is a good overview about Support Circles containing some history, the various roles of a ‘circle’, the benefits of establishing one, ways that people might contribute within a ‘circle’, and who you might ask to be part of the ‘circle’.

Circles of Support, by Judith Snow                                                                                                      This outline was inspired out of Judith’s experience and that of the Joshua Committee, Judith’s Circle of Support.  It describes the four, basic relationship “circles” for consideration in all our lives: Circle of Intimacy, Circle of Friendship, Circle of Participation, and Circle of Exchange. Ideas to begin forming a Circle are also included. This information can also be found in books and articles authored by Judith Snow and Jack Pearpoint on the Inclusion Press website.

A guide to Circles of Support                                                                                                                This article, by authors Deb Rouget and Teresa Micallef, was published in the Voice-The Journal for Down Syndrome Australia, April 2019.  Simply explained – a nice, easy read – it is an edited extract from ‘A Guide to Circles of Support’ published by Belonging Matters.  The document contains two articles. One about Circles of Support: their importance, benefits, outcomes, tips on getting started (ex. Purpose, Vision for a Circle, qualities of potential Circle members, etc.), tips for meetings, and why involve a facilitator. A second article, written by family leader, Jacquie Mills “What are microboards?” is included at the end.

Circles of Support                                                                                                                                          A handy brochure from Inclusion Melbourne, Australia. It is about circles of support, the role of ‘circles’ with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), steps to starting a circle of support, and examples of circles of support and microboards in Australia, the UK, and Canada. It is available as a resource from the National Resource Centre for Circles of Support and Microboards (COSAM) which was created to promote circles of support and microboards and provide accessible information and resources.

Facilitating Circles of Support                                                                                                                     A workbook for people who are interested in learning more about circles. “Circles function at their best when there is good leadership and an active, engaged membership. This workbook focusses on facilitation and provides further insight for people wanting to know more about the skills required to be a great facilitator.”  (Wilson, R., Hepburn, J., Despott, N. Facilitating Circles of Support. National Resource Centre for Circles of Support and Microboards & Inclusion Melbourne: Melbourne.)

Circles of Support, A manual for getting started, 2019                                                                        This comprehensive manual was developed by Resourcing Inclusive Communities, an initiative of Family Advocacy, New South Wales, Australia. It contains a great deal of information about Circles of Support. It includes:  a small history; the practicalities of a circle; who to invite and how to make invitations; how to get started: the first meeting, after the first meeting, action items and planning tools; the limits of a circle; and maintaining a circle.

Circles of Support: Getting Started, 2018                                                                                            Using simple language and graphics, this paper was published in 2018, Resourcing Families (now known as Resourcing Inclusive Communities). It is about starting a circle of support with ideas about brainstorming who could join, how to invite people, how to create/plan for a meeting, and make action points.

Making Connections                                                                                                                              This paper discusses the development of a Circle of Support using person-centred planning approaches, with the example of a student in school.  Author Rob Otorepec is with Circles Network, Building Inclusive Communities. It is a national voluntary organisation working towards building inclusive communities in the United Kingdom.

“Predictors & indicators that influence the success of Circles of Support.                                   A short paper containing thoughts and comments from participants at the National Resource Centre for Circles of Support and Microboards (NRCCOSAM) Forum, December 1, 2017, Inclusion Melbourne.

CRUcial Times, March 2007, Issue 38                                                                                                    An issue of the Crucial Times newsletter dedicated to the topics of circles of support. Many good articles by various authors.  Published by Community Resource Unit Inc., Queensland, Australia

Stories and Videos

Inclusion Includes Belonging : How to Create & Sustain a Circle of Support    Written by Emma Fialka-Feldman, Micah Fialka-Feldman, and Janice Fialka. This brief includes ways of creating and sustaining a circle of support which includes the 4 I’s to circles: intentional, invitation, interest, and individual with a disability. Micah Fialka-Feldman was one of the featured young adults in “Intelligent Lives”, a documentary about Inclusion by Dan Habib. It can also be found at the top under Favourite Picks, with the webinar and resources, from Think College: Intentional Inclusion: Cultivating Circles of Support  

A Circle of Support: A Space to Blossom                                                                                                A mother’s story about the process of creating a circle of support for her daughter, Belinda, and how Belinda’s life has blossomed with opportunities that have come her way. By Jennie Keough.

Building Personal Support Networks: Barbarah and Zackery’s Story – VIDEO                                This video “Building Personal Support Networks: Barbarah and Zackery’s Story” has been developed to create awareness of support networks and inform people of the importance of making safe social connections. This is a project of the Policy and Program Development Safeguards initiative. Video by Community Living British Columbia, 2011.

Community Circles, United Kingdom  – VIDEO STORY                                                                         This video, found on the home page of the Community Circles website, provides an interesting story about the development of a “Community Circle” for a senior mother, with the help of her daughter and a volunteer Community Circles Facilitator.  Quote from the site: “Community Circles help people to be happierhealthier and more connected with the support of their community.”

Circles of Support Discussion Guide (with VIDEOS)                                                                               Created by the National Resource Centre for Circles of Support and Microboards (COSAM), Australia – a discussion guide with videos embedded within where people and ‘circle’ members share. The guide is meant to facilitate conversations about Circles of Support. Films are based on variations of similar situations that have been observed in established Circles of Support.

Circles of Support, NABORS – A Community of Circles                                                                          This is an Ontario example, about a support organization called NABORS, that based their model of support on people having a circle.  From their website: “A circle of support is a group of citizens who come together to support and share a relationship with a person who may be vulnerable because of having a disability. People who have disabilities are at risk of becoming isolated and surrounded by people who are paid to be in their life.”  NABORS, Neighbours Allied for Better Opportunities in Residential Support, exists to safeguard against this and to keep people safe through strong circles of support. Click here For NABORS full Story 

VIDEOS by Inclusion Melbourne

Many thanks to the My Home My Choice Initiative and Committee members.  Relationships, circles and networks has been a priority for this initiative over many years. Researching the resources, and creating or enhancing our own local resources, educating about networks, circles and Microboards over the years has been an important part of the work. We know that to live in one’s home option, it is best when people are in relationship with others. Relationships are a protection and a safeguard!