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An innovative way to do SIL

Power to the people! Lisa explores The Family Governance Model and what it could mean for Supported Independent Living.

By Lisa Duffy

Updated 15 Apr 202422 Mar 2022

A hybrid of approaches with a significant shift in power to people with disability, Lisa looks at this innovative way to do Supported Independent Living.

At some point in our lives, most of us grapple with the question of how we create a home. But the challenge that Supported Independent Living (SIL) providers often face goes a step further: how to facilitate a home for somebody else.

Following DSC’s National Home and Living Conference in December 2021, we hope to further explore some of the innovative models of home and living that were raised there. In particular, we want to discuss ways to increase the power that people with disability have over their homes and over their lives, so that decisions about creating the home sit in the hands of the people living in it.

We received many queries about Family Governance Models, and we want to take the chance to unpack these ideas with you today.

The family governance model

In many group homes, power over and administrative responsibility for running the home sits with the service provider, which often make the call when it comes to staffing allocation and personnel changes, rosters, policies, and procedures. Sometimes, the provider even makes domestic choices about what each person eats, who showers when, and when people go to bed.

For many years, organisations like Supporting Independent Living Cooperative (SILC) have been operating on a different model that aims to transfer more power to the residents. SILC supports groups of housemates and their families to form a committee that operates as a Family Governance Model. In this model, housemates and/or their families fully manage and operate the logistics of the home.

Whereas the service provider in a traditional group home makes all the staffing and rostering decisions, the committee in the Family Governance Model has full responsibility for this process. This can include recruitment, rostering, developing and implementing Human Resources (HR) policies and procedures, obtaining insurance, managing staff, training, and paying wages.

The Family Governance Model puts the maximum degree of power into the hands of housemates and/or their families, but an obvious challenge is the workload involved. While many housemates and their families want to be in charge of critical decisions about their lives, the administrative work can often be overwhelming and for many would not be practical. This can mean that many people will default to the traditional service provider-led approach.

So… is there a middle ground?

A solution to this conundrum would be for service providers to update their operating procedures to incorporate lessons and learnings from the Family Governance Model. This would mean administering houses with the explicit goal of giving housemates the benefits of running the service themselves without the administrative downside. But how?

The Facilitated Family Governance Model of SIL service provision is a hybrid of the traditional, provider-driven and family governed approaches. It combines all the power and control of the former with the reduced administrative load of the latter. Indeed, it could be seen as “the best of both worlds”.

One provider, Fighting Chance, has been operating under a Facilitated Family Governance Model in its social enterprise, Base Housing Collective (formerly Fighting Chance Accommodation), since 2018. Base’s non-negotiable starting point is that housemates with disability are the best decision makers about their own lives. Housemates should not have to forego choice over the key decisions involved in running a home.

How does it actually work?

The key features of the Facilitated Family Governance Model are as follows:

  • Each housemate has one or two seats on the home’s Family Governance Committee. The housemate can take one of those seats or can nominate a person such as an informal support to represent them.
  • The Family Governance Committee operates like a Board that meets monthly, formally and with minutes. It has decision-making powers in key domains of the operations of the house, such as management structure, staffing, rostering, décor and even financial oversite of the annual budget.
  • The service provider, which in this instance is Base, acts as the executive, implementing the choices and decisions of the Family Governance Committee.
  • From a structural perspective, a critical aspect of the approach is that the house is treated first and foremost as the home of the people who live there and not as the workplace of the SIL provider and its staff.
  • Each home acts as a “springboard to the community”, so support can be delivered equally well in the local pub or the bathroom within the home.
  • Financial transparency: the Family Governance Committee has full access to the house budget and management reports, and the budget is approved by the Committee.
  • Each home is an individual island with its own management and staffing team, and unknown or agency staff are actively avoided.

This governance structure isn’t based on a legal arrangement; the service provider remains legally bound to meet its compliance obligations and run a safe, responsible service. As such, there are certain decisions that a Family Governance Committee cannot make (e.g., not complying with Quality and Safeguard Commission rules or regulations or breaking HR laws). But this structure is both cultural and procedural. When there is discretion, it’s designed to put power in the hands of housemates.

For example, if the Family Governance Committee raises concerns about the performance of a staff member working in the home, the House Manager will follow up and take any actions required. These might include staff training, performance management, and potentially cessation of employment. The Committee has the power, choice, and control to make the decision about what its members want to happen, but the heavy lifting of the response is left to the service provider to which the residents are paying a fixed annual fee to deliver these supports.

This is a truly significant power shift: in the Facilitated Family Governance Model, the person with disability is the person at the very top of the decision-making pyramid.

The myth of SIL vs. Living alone

Finally, it’s worth addressing the fiction that many of the problems in group homes would be solved if people with disability stopped living together and simply lived alone.

The reality is you can still have no choice, no power, and no control when living alone, if that is the cultural approach of the provider delivering individual supports. Similarly, a group of three friends who enjoy living together and want to combine their funding to get economy of scale can absolutely retain power over their lives and choices, if this is facilitated by their provider. Of course, it is more complex to manage power structures and decision making if many people live together (as anyone who has lived with others will know). But with the right mindset and culture amongst housemates and their provider, it is perfectly achievable.

What next?

It is well and truly time to put the NDIS concepts of choice and control into action so that people with disability can hold positions of power when it comes to home and living. The Facilitated Family Governance Model is one way to increase the power of those people.


Lisa Duffy

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