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Planning with Families

Author: Pippa Murray

This paper gives an overview of the people to involve in support planning with families, the tasks that need to be completed and guidance for the areas to be covered in a support plan.

Who needs to be involved?

  • Families 
  • Key professionals in education, health and social care

Remember - schools offer the chance to listen to the independent voice of children and young people. Staff in schools will know the child well and should be able to give information about preferences, dislikes and the best forms of communication.

The Main Steps

1. Be really clear about deadlines and important dates

Set out a timeline for tasks with important dates (e.g. assessments, information workshops, identifying and briefing support planners, support planning, individual interviews, senior managers from agency providing funding agreeing that plans for the spend of indicative budget meets with assessed need, putting plans into action, getting on with life). 

Remember - This process does not need to take a long time. It is possible to move from self assessment to ‘going live’ with budget within two months. And the time will decreases as key professionals grow in experience.

2. Do any necessary assessments

It is really important that families know their indicative budget before they start planning. If this requires a professional assessment then this must be an urgent priority and be done as soon as possible.

3. Run information workshops

Families and professionals need to know what any individual budgets or other resources they can offer young people and their families, what the process of assessment involves, and how to plan and get on with life. However it is usually most helpful if any initial workshops are separate, as families and professionals need different information and a space to talk about the issues as they affect them in their roles:

Professionals - Bring professionals in all agencies together to set the context for the use of individual budgets and support planning and give them information about what is expected of them in their roles, and the timeline for the particular piece of work.

Families - Bring families together to set the context for IBs and support planning, and to meet with other parents who are embarking on an Individual Budget.It works best if a parent can lead or co-facilitate this session. It is always good to have families already with an IB present to give their experiences.

It is particularly important to help parents understand that the process probably isn’t too daunting - rather it is an exciting opportunity to bring together the young person's voice and all that everyone knows about them to plan together an exciting and fulfilling future.

In order to build capacity and encourage family leadership it can be really useful to invite members of the local parent forum. Depending on their experience they may be able to lead the session; be there as a family going on to use an individual budget; or be present to learn about individual budgets and support planning, and so that they can think about the role of the forum in the development of this work.

When a parent forums takes on some aspects of this work then they are given the chance to develop leadership. It is important to recognise that families may be coming from many years of children’s services where they may have been passive receivers of whatever has been on offer. The process of Personalised Transition can often be the first time that parents are offered the opportunity to view their son or daughter as a young adult with gifts, talents and aspirations. Involving families through the parent forum offers opportunities to give families they need the skills for a different way of life, not just a short term solution. This is in line with the newly published SEN Green Paper - Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.

4. Make clear any rules about what people cannot do with their budget

Senior managers need to decide, and explain in clear information, what money cannot be spent on. Support plans must show that all money spent must relate to assessed need, but families need the guidance before they start planning if anything will not be allowed. It is also important to understand that clarity is most likely to come from specifying what people cannot do with their money. Stripping funding out of budgets after plans have been created is likely to undermine trust and in the long-run drive up costs as family's will be encouraged to pick more traditional and expensive support solutions.

Remember - we should not stop people from using money wisely and creatively nor assume that we know - in advance - how best any budget should be spent. The lesson of self-directed support is that often people and families have ideas about how to spend money that increase efficiency and effectiveness and cannot be predicted by a professional who has only limited involvement in a family's life. 

5. Give people useful information and contacts to read or explore

Compile an information guide (useful websites, directories, phone numbers etc) that can be used as an aid to support planning. It is important this guide has information about mainstream educational and leisure opportunities as well as specialist services.

6. Support planning workshops

It is often useful to enable people to plan together with others. Although this may not work in all circumstances it can be a useful means for people to share ideas, inspiration, experiences and develop mutually supportive networks.

Before this happens any facilitators need to be identified, given introductory training & paired up with the family they are working with. Families often need two events and it is important to set dates for both as soon as possible. The groups of families working together should ideally be no more than 6 or 7. [If they do have to be bigger, it is important to have a space that can hold a larger group and allow for some quiet space to think & to make sure there are enough facilitators to work with each family.]

Preparatory sessions with families - There should also be an initial interview, after information workshop and prior to starting support planning process, with family, support planner & support planning co-ordinator. This gives families the opportunity to meet those helping them with the process and gives those helpers the opportunity to listen to your worries, fears or more positive thoughts about the process.

On-going support - People will also need visits and/or phone calls or email contact from support planner throughout the process as necessary.

7. Signing off support plans

Final interview for all families and support planning facilitators after all workshops to look at support plan with support planning co-ordinator and ensure all is in order to get plan agreed. Ideally front-line professionals should be empowered to make nay necessary decisions and there should be no reason to delay agreement or send plans to panels if they are within budget. 

8. Celebratory event for families 

When families have been living with an individual budget for a few months it can be very useful to bring them back together to share stories of how things are going and what is working well. This can be a good event to bring professionals and families together – it serves as an opportunity for professional development and training for professionals - and it helps other families discover what is possible.

Content of support plan

We don’t need to re-invent the wheel when we support plan. If it makes sense to use existing documents or booklets etc then we should do so. We then just need to make sure we tie everything together and are clear about it’s purpose in relation to the total support plan. Existing documents may include:

  • Student booklet (a simple booklet/powerpoint/photo album etc) that gives a good picture of who the young person is and what makes them tick
  • Supported Self-Assessment questionnaire
  • Support plan worksheets (see below)
  • One page profile (if available)
  • Communication chart (if relevant)
  • Any previous person centred plans/reviews
  • Any other contribution from family e.g. photos, detailed risk assessment etc.
  • Summary of support plan outcomes & how they meet the assessed needs in assessment questionnaire

Remembering the need to be clear, concise and to use existing materials the following is a suggested simple framework for a support plan

Section 1: about the young person

People - who’s who; which relationships are most important, which might be made stronger, who do they want to stay in contact with when they leave school etc. (a relationship map can be helpful)

Style - What works (i.e. usually makes young person happy, creates pleasure, energy, aliveness, engagement); what doesn’t work (i.e. usually young person don’t like, creates disconnection, frustration, boredom, deadness); what works when trying new things? What supports communication and thinking?

Places - What places matter in the young person’s life? Some of these will be everyday places, others might be once in a while places (e.g. holidays). It is helpful to think of all the places the young person might go to:

  • Community and local neighbourhood
  • Places young person goes with other young people (e.g. places presently go to with school mates, friends & family)
  • Service world (e.g. school, college, short break centre etc) – including places the young person goes out to from that place

Skills, capacities and gifts - Tell stories about times when young person is at their best, most themselves and able to make a positive difference to other people. Reflect on each story by asking ‘what qualities or gifts does this story show the young person to have?’ Ask whether there are any other gifts or capacities they have that are not in that story. It can be useful to give people worksheets giving more explanation about gifts and capacities.

Gifts and capacities might include:

  • Remembering names
  • Remembering faces
  • Using a computer
  • Making cups of tea
  • Listening; staying still
  • Drawing
  • Painting

Section 1 will make up the content of the first workshop. Any work not finished at the workshop will be completed at home ready for the second workshop.

Section 2: about making connections

This section is used is to plan possible activities: what does the young person want to do when they leave school? So Review what you know about the young person and use that to come up with ideas for what they could do when they leave school.

Start with interests and capacities - As well as thinking about typical options such as colleges and day services, you should also look for possible connections that could help the young person to shape their life after school according to their preferences and capacities. So we look at interests and capacities to build on, brainstorm potential community opportunities, look at role young person could have in a specific place or organisation.

For example:

Sandy really loves listening to opera music. This creates many community opportunities

  • amateur operatic societies, 
  • local theatres, 
  • music workshops etc

This opens up many possible roles

  • part of rehearsal audience, 
  • regular patron etc

When we bring families together to support plan, we can ask the whole group for any connections they might have with activities such as being a member of an operatic society, or if they know someone who is. These connections can lead to new opportunities we don’t even think about when we focus on ‘service land’.

Explore new connections in the local community - Think about what it might be possible to do locally, based on interests and preferences:

  • Doing things with family & close friends (e.g. holiday; meals together etc)
  • Work
  • Learning opportunities (e.g. going to college, individual learning programme etc)
  • Community associations (e.g. local churches, community centres etc)
  • Neighbourhood life (eg. going to local cafe, shops etc)

You may need to list the steps needed to follow up on these connections.

Use the weekly timetable - Outline the week, give details of what a week might look like – include possibilities for learning and work (paid or unpaid) and who will be supporting (paid and unpaid) young person at different times/for different activities. [It may be useful to have a worksheet giving an overview of the week.]

Section 3: about making it real

In the light of your goals and connections think about what support is needed:

  • To do all the things they enjoy? 
  • To keep them safe? 
  • To help them become more independent? (this could be about keeping communication chart up to date)
  • To keep them healthy and safe? (include therapies, nutrition, medication, support with behaviour etc)

What puts young person at risk, for example:

  • if I don’t have people who understand my communication
  • if people don’t understand my behaviour etc)

What support does young person have already? Who is going to provide any additional support needed? How will the budget be spent? The budget will then set out:

Details of what are you plan to spend the money on
How you will set aside some money for emergencies
How you will manage the budget (this could be done by the person, their family, a trust, an agency, through a budget managed by a professional).

Action plan - You will need to finish this off with a simple action plan outlining what needs doing to put specific things in place, who is going to do it, and when it is going to be done by. One person needs to take responsibility for the action plan as a whole.

Sections 2 and 3 will be covered during the second workshop.

Section 4: about outcomes

To make sure the support plan captures everything coming out of the assessment, simply signpost where the criteria are addressed in the content of the support plan. 

For example, if the following bullet points address the main areas of assessed need, the bracketed text indicates where in the plan that assessed need is met:

  • My physical and mental health needs are met (see sections on support, timetable for the week, and activities I enjoy doing) 
  • I am able to meet my personal care needs (see section on support) 
  • I am able to keep myself safe (see section on support; communication chart etc)
  • I am able to manage my actions (see communication chart)
  • I am able to eat, drink and prepare my meals (see support, work & learning etc)
  • I am able to make decisions and organise my life(see support, work & learning etc)
  • I am able to be part of my community (see support, work & learning etc) 
  • I am able to run and maintain my homeI am able to have work and learning opportunities if I choose to (see support, work & learning etc) 
  • I am able to move about in and around my home (see support, work & learning etc) 
  • I feel supported at night (see support, work & learning etc) 
  • I am able to feel safe and supported moving around my home and community (see support, work & learning etc)
  • My family and friends do not feel pressured into supporting me (see support, work & learning etc)

Section 4 is completed prior to the final individual interview and in presenting the plan to appropriate professionals to be signed off.


With thanks to Alison Cowen (Lives Unlimited) and Joanne Whitehead (CANDI) for their helpful comments.

The contents for a support plan are adapted from activities and worksheets from Make A Difference: A guidebook for person centred direct support by John O’ Brien and Beth Mount.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Planning with Families © Pippa Murray 2011.

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.