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The Key to Support Planning

 Author: Liam Toner

In this article I want to look at support planning from the starting point that led me to become a Support Planner. I hope to bring forward the positive drivers which lead to self-directed support (SDS) and then to question whether the current development of SDS is in line with these. By doing this I want to argue that support planning can be a powerful tool but question whether its current incarnation allows this to be the case.

I became a Support Planner because I saw it as an opportunity to help people take control of their own lives. By having control of the resources available to meet your needs, you have the ability to make meaningful decisions for yourself regarding support.

The support plan is a tool through which people can take this control. It is one way of somebody identifying what their strengths, goals and support networks are and using these, build a plan for a fulfilling and meaningful life. The starting point is that people can make decisions for themselves and are in fact the best placed to make those decisions. Although obvious, this needs to be made explicit. Support planning in itself isn’t empowering; support planning in a context that assumes people know best about their own life could be.

The role of the Support Planner should therefore be on the most part quite limited. It could include supporting people to find provider costs; it could include explaining the tools that a person could use to make their support plan; it may even include facilitating support planning meetings. The point is that the Support Planner should be in the background providing one of many flexible resources accessible to people. If the basis we are working from is that people can make decisions for themselves it isn’t necessary for a support plan to be built by anyone apart from that person and those who know them best.

The current context however means that the role for the Support Planner is much more extensive. This is explained by three key factors.

Firstly, the process through which support plans are agreed means you need the skills of a planner who knows the system and what decision-makers are looking for. By creating a series of hoops a support plan needs to get through, the current process undervalues people’s capacity to make good decisions for themselves and increases their dependence on a professional. What this means for the service user is that the support plan starts to belong less and less to them and instead becomes a booklet of evidence for a decision-maker.

Secondly, the complexity of the current system means again people are more dependent on a professional who knows that system well. From assessment to having your plan agreed, there are so many unclear processes, procedures, protocols and differing rules for different funding streams that it’s no wonder people feel the need to turn to a Support Planner.

Thirdly, the focus on Support Planners has meant that they are seen as the route through which people plan. This means service users and the system have become overly dependent on professional Support Planners rather than looking for alternative tools to plan. Of course, many Support Planners do excellent jobs but this role shouldn’t be as central as it is. This centrality in itself exacerbates the problems outlined in (1) and (2).

These three reasons mean the Support Planner’s role is far greater than it needs to be. Each of these issues has been built into the system; none are necessary. The complexity and the decision making process don’t need to be as they are, neither does there need to be the current focus on professional Support Planners.

The role of the Support Planner given this context becomes greater and greater. We help navigate the mess of systems and frameworks but more damagingly, we become central to the building of the support plan in order to make it the kind of plan that will get agreed. While this is happening the focus on professional support means the other possible tools and approaches are being neglected. The Support Planner has become the primary and only apparent route to creating a plan.

To address the problems with support planning, we need to look at what underlying principles motivate us and whether our approach is in line with them. The tools themselves don’t help people take control, how they are used and by whom does. As outlined, the current system of support planning isn’t the empowering system of adult social care I think it should be. 

A few simple changes may make a large difference to people’s experiences of controlling their own support. Initially, simplifying the system would make a big difference. By making all funding streams easy to understand and having clear sources of information people would not feel as daunted when presented with the task of planning out their support. 

Secondly if we trusted peoples’ judgments about their support more we could reduce the level of control decision-makers have. This would allow people to get the support they wanted through a support plan that belonged to them. 

Thirdly, we need to move away from support planning as our focus and instead invest in peer support, information sources and community support. By doing this the Support Planner becomes one tool in a planning toolbox. This would allow people to properly take control of their own support in a flexible and empowering way.

I have attempted to sketch the current and possible realities of support planning. If the goal of SDS is for people to take control of their own lives then we need to trust people to make those decisions for themselves. By focusing on Support Planners we are missing the wider variety of tools we should be developing to help people to do this. By looking again at why we are doing what we are doing hopefully we can ensure the future of SDS better reflects the principles that inspired it.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

The Key to Support Planning © Liam Toner 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.