‘Circles of support’ is a concept that originated in Canada in the 1980s to describe a group of people who gather regularly to support the goals, interests and needs of a person with a disability.
Each circle is tailored to the individual and the group size can range from as small as three supporters to more than 20 people.
Fiona Bottcher is a Uniting Church candidate for ministery who worships at Brunswick Uniting Church with Jack, her 14-year-old son. Jack is non-verbal and has autism.
Ms Bottcher believes worship and participation in congregational activities would become much richer for her and Jack if a circle of support was in place.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea for a congregation,” she said.
“Brunswick Uniting Church has been very inclusive and welcoming of Jack and he can move around the worship space as he needs to. I know there are people in the congregation who would love to be able to do more to support us.
“But, as a parent, it can be very hard to go up to someone and say ‘would you like to help? Do you feel comfortable doing this with my son?’”
Ms Bottcher said a circle of support means there will always a group of people she can rely on to assist and interact with Jack when she is at church.
“It’s beneficial for both me and my son because I can engage with other people in a worship space and not always have my eyes on him. He gets to engage with other people instead of being around his mum all the time,” Ms Bottcher said.
“I also think it’s empowering for the people who want to help because they have a structured way to say ‘yes I’d like to help – this is what I feel like I’m capable of’. Everyone wins out of it.”
The synod is organising two introductory sessions at 130 Little Collins St for people interested in circles of support. They are designed for individuals who wish to start a circle of support for themselves and church members keen on implementing the concept in their own congregations.
The information sessions will be conducted by Michelle Veale, a circles of support facilitator with UnitingCare lifeAssist.
Ms Veale compared the circles to a ‘think tank’ that gathers and plans ideas to help the person in the centre of the circle.
She believes it is a simple idea that can have far-reaching benefits for both the person being supported and others in the circle.
“We are introducing natural relationships in a very purposeful way,” Ms Veale said.
“It’s a learning experience for other people in the circle as well.”
There are two sessions to choose from: Saturday 6 May 10am-12pm or Thursday 18 May 6pm-8pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org at least two days prior to the session to confirm your attendance.