Developing Family Networks

Family-to-family support comes naturally to most families in Canada. Most of us parents make new friends through our children and often, our friendships change along with our children’s friends and interests. During these friendships, we support each other because we have something in common, i.e. our children are the same age, there interests and needs are similar and so are our needs as parents.

However, family to family support doesn’t necessarily happen naturally for those who have a family member with a disability. The majority of families of a child or adult with special needs don’t live next door to another family of a child or adult with special needs and can often feel isolated and alone in their “corner of the world.”

It is important for families to connect with each other on a local, provincial and even national level. Families expressed feeling alone, that no one understands their experiences or their needs as a family. Families, who do join support networks, leave because of the time commitment required and that lack of support that they get in return. Many families and family-support organizations that we have spoken to agree that family networks should be:

Fun - Families with special needs and responsibilities spend enough time in their lives being serious. It’s OK to laugh! Laughter allows people to move past serious problems and toward bright futures for our families. Sometimes, it helps to laugh at ridiculous and sometimes absurd situations that are encountered in life.

Families are more willing to join and participate in a fun atmosphere. The more families participate, the more they can benefit from the information, friendship and encouragement other families have to offer.

Unified - Families need to know that there is someone out there who understands their experiences. When we partner with other groups for support, we can create change.

Manageable - A family support network should be manageable. This means the goals of the network should support families, rather than leading to more stress and work.

Individualized - Families should be able to get what they need and contribute as much as they wish. For example, some families may participate on a regular basis, while other families may participate as the need arises.

Willing to Listen - Just being there as a sounding board for other families who may just want to share their experiences and feelings without being told what they should or shouldn’t do or how they should or shouldn’t feel.

Create Opportunities - Connecting with other families, sharing new experiences with people who understand, forming friendships and learning from others help families to feel connected and empowered by the knowledge they gain from the network.

Accountable - Through networking, families have a stronger voice in the community. Groups and organizations that provide supports and services to families tend to be more accountable when families use their collective voice to make their needs heard.

Welcoming - Families need to feel comfortable and safe enough to share their experience and to discuss the decisions they have made, or will be making on behalf of children or family member.

Adapted with permission from the New Brunswick Community Association for Community Living Website.

This page was updated December 16, 2009

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