Written by Circles Facilitator Michelle Livesley


Amy is a young woman in her early 30s. I’ve known her dad, Kevin, for years because we used to work together but only met Amy in the last 12 months. I’d bumped into Kevin at a conference and he was explaining that he was finding family life tough. Amy has learning disabilities and lives away from home with support. Her mother, who had always been the person in the family to direct Amy’s support, had passed away suddenly and Kevin now found himself in unchartered territory. He wanted to do the very best for Amy, to support her in the right way and to make the right decisions about her future but his fear of making the wrong decision was stopping him from making any. I offered to facilitate a Circle for Amy and left Kevin to think about it.

Six months later he got in touch. He was ready to start the process.  One of his biggest fears about starting a Circle (something that had prevented him from getting in touch sooner) was who to invite. He felt that everyone was so busy and that they wouldn’t have the time to take part. Kevin also felt strongly that he didn’t want to burden others with what he saw as his parental responsibilities and worried about how he might feel if people said no. This is very common and many family members have described this same concern to me. I explained that part of the Community Circles process was that the Facilitator invited the Circle members. We do it like this to remove these anxieties and pressures from people so that the invite and response aren’t taken personally. This way people feel more able to say what they can and can’t agree to without worrying about upsetting anyone. I met with Kevin, his wife and with Amy a number of times and we decided on a list of people who I then called, emailed and facebooked.

At the first proper Circles meeting, the living room was so full I could barely find a place to sit. It was quite emotional to see so many people turning up to be part of Amy’s Circle. Kevin was overwhelmed by the commitment from others to be part of planning for and supporting each other in Amy’s Future.

On our second Circles meeting we arranged for Amy to have a person-centred review.  We had identified early on that actually we had more questions than answers when it came to thinking about how Amy wanted to live her life. How did she want to be supported? What did she want to spend her time doing and who with?  Amy doesn’t communicate verbally so we needed to observe, share and capture information in order to make informed person-centred decisions.  One task that came out of the review included having a more detailed exploration into who would be a good match for Amy to support her well and what the perfect week would look like. We also took an action to think about ways we could support Amy to have new experiences.

Last week Amy went to the Inclusive Communities Experience conference where she stayed with her dad in a shared cabin for two nights. Kevin has been going for years and he never imagined that it would be possible to take Amy who he knew would love it. With the help of Circle members, using their networks to liaise with Amy’s provider, they were able to agree enough support to make it happen.  This has undoubtedly been an incredibly positive experience for Amy and her dad. They were able to enjoy a weekend away together, meet new people, make new connections and try new things.

Our next Circles meeting will start with a celebration of our first positive outcome for Amy – recognising what can be achieved when people work collectively for a shared purpose. The approach that we all took was not can Amy go away on his trip but ‘how’ can we support Amy to go away on this trip. The momentum that this carried was incredibly powerful and I’m sure that this has given Amy’s Circle the confidence that together we can support Amy in her ambitions and Amy’s dad in the decision making process.

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