Natural supports describe the naturally occurring or informal relationships experienced in the community, for example, between neighbours, within cultural groups, and through working lives.
One of the great things about natural supports is that they aren’t associated with any financial cost! People are not paid to offer support, instead they do it because of a shared interest or connection. Natural support can come in many forms, for example, it may be a ride to the supermarket, assistance filling out a form, or help with meeting new friends.
Experience shows us that people with disability are more likely to be included in the community if natural supports are encouraged around their participation. This is because it is difficult to become part of a community from the outside. It is much easier if it happens from within the community. A good example of this is when someone has an interest in joining a particular club or group. It is better to have a member of that group introduce the person, because they will be known by the rest of the group already, and they will know how to introduce the person in a way that fits with the group.
In saying this, we also know that for many people with disability and their whānau, paid services and professionals, also known as formal supports, play an important role in their lives. Formal supports may usefully be part of people’s search for the good life, but care needs to be taken to make sure it does not over-ride the authority and power of the person and their whānau. Paid services and supports should complement, not take over or exclude the natural supports that already exist or could be developed.
Take a look at material from a workshop we hosted on Natural and Formal Supports.