Building Community Networks

Circles of Support

Building Community Networks


What is the Building Community Networks Project?

The Building Community Networks project is based on two concepts, Circles of Support and Valued Social Roles.


Over 25 years ago, the idea of Circles of Support originated in Canada and since then have been used widely in many countries as an idea and practice to intentionally invite people to come together in friendship and support of a person with a disability. Circles of Support harness the goodwill, knowledge and connections of community members rather than viewing the person as a service recipient. They can also be a useful safeguard for the future.


By attempting to create or support socially valued roles for people in their community it means that it more likely they will receive from society the good things in life that are available or at least the opportunities for obtaining them. 


Why is Focusing on Valued Roles Important?


Focusing on valued roles is important because it can assist people to:

  • Lead a lifestyle that is typical and common to most people in the community e.g. pursue the same aspirations, opportunities, places, pathways, and rhythms as most people would expect,

  • Pursue valued roles based on one’s interests, gifts and strengths in places that are frequented by other community members,

  • Pay careful attention to role development and enhancement e.g. through role attainment, skill development and appearance,

  • Maintain high expectations for growth throughout one’s lifespan e.g. being treated according to your chronological age, reducing dependency and having the opportunity to learn and grow,

  • Learn new skills and to be challenged to prepare and live a real life, rather than being over protected, stagnant or become a service recipient for every aspect of one’s life,

  • Foster freely given relationships with a range of people. Not just other people with a disability, marginalised people or paid professionals,

  • Promote their autonomy through supported decision making e.g. the person is seen as a unique individual and is supported to make decisions over the direction of their own life,

  • Avoid practices that reinforce negative stereotypes e.g. congregation, segregation, adults being treated like children, devalued roles, lack of social and economic contribution, pity, special environments, an over-abundance of staff presence, endless leisure, low expectations etc.


How Does Building Community Networks Work?

Each focus person will identify four or more, non- paid supporters or members e.g. family, friends, allies who are willing to journey with them and attend their Circle of Support or network meetings. Throughout 2017, the focus person will be hold six network meetings at a time and place that is preferable to them and their network.


Belonging Matters will provide a Facilitator who will help the network to elicit the focus person’s vision for a full, meaningful and inclusive life. At each meeting the network will concentrate on assisting the focus person to identifying valued roles in the community based on their interests, strengths and potential. From these discussions “role” goals will be developed. The focus person and their network will then identify actions and time lines which will be reviewed at the next network meeting. Thus harnessing the wisdom, ideas and connections of the network.


The role of the Facilitator is to assist the focus person and their network to come together, think through possibilities, identify “role” goals and actions and review their efforts. The Facilitator may also be able to offer information and advice about connecting people to the community but will not provide on the ground implementation support or support workers. This project will be done “with” the focus person and their network as a means to empower, build capacity, enable valued contribution to the community and safeguard the future. It will NOT be done “for” people!


Who is Building Community Networks for?

Priority will be given to people with an intellectual disability and/or Autism (and their families/carers) who:

  • Are committed to the development of socially inclusive pathways and valued social roles,

  • Want to pursue a unique life,

  • Do not wish to pursue special programs or segregated/congregate pathways,

  • Can commit to six network meetings during a twelve month period,

  • Can and want to establish a network of unpaid supporters,

  • Have at least 4 active and commited members who can attend meetings throughout the year to assist the focus person to pursue their vision and valued roles in the community,

  • Take action on the goals and develop socially inclusive opportunities for the focus person,

  • Have at last one member of their network able to attend the two day “Towards a Better Life course,”

  • Be willing to be challenged in regard to stereotypes and assumptions that may limit the focus person’s potential, development valued social roles and community inclusion,

  • Participate in a project evaluation and provide feedback about the process.


General Process for Circles of Support/BCN Meetings

Connecting with each other

Introduction to Building Community Networks Project
Roles based practice
The values that we hold
Vision for a full, meaningful and inclusive life
Review of current life activities/roles
Current relationships
Likes, interests, abilities and gifts
Exploring and Establishing valued roles
Exploring places
Establishing an action plan
Role expectations
Extending roles (sub roles)
Review of progress
(N.B. This process is only a guideline for meetings through the year)



Given the rollout of the NDIS throughout Victoria, the cost of Building Community Networks Facilitation will need to be included in a participant’s NDIS package. Please contact us in regard to the cost by emailing


What You Receive Per Year

  • Access to a trained facilitator in roles based practice, social inclusion, working with people with disabilities and families and group facilitation.

  • Initial discussion and set up.

  • Meeting the focus person and their family, discuss BCN process and gather information to begin.

  • Facilitation of 6 BCN meetings per year at the focus person’s home or place of choice. The BCN is made up of the focus person, their specifically identified family and friends and other unpaid supporters. This includes 3-3.5 hrs of the facilitator’s time, at a time suitable to the Network (often in the evening)

  • 1 hour pre meeting consultation/support/reflection (6 times per year).

  • Up to date documentation of roles, outcomes and actions from each meeting produced and sent to the focus person/family for distribution to their network,

  • One learning and capacity building workshop in roles based practice for circle members per year.



For Further Information

For further infomtation about BCN please email Teresa

or phone our office: 03 97398333

Belonging Matters respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and we pay our respect to their Elders both past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander visitors are warned that this site may contain images/voices of deceased persons which may be distressing for some people.

© 2013 Belonging Matters

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    This website was first published in 2013 by Belonging Matters. It is updated regularly. Please do not share information contained in this website publicly without permission.