Whether it’s for illness, disability or aged care, creating meaningful support networks can help both the focal point and those doing the supporting. Yet creating a robust, communicative support network is something a lot of people struggle with. Especially when the pressure is on.
Support networks can provide comfort to the person needing the support. And they can answer that much needed, “how can I help?” question. By bringing people together to create a web of support, you can also create the opportunity for people to talk, decompress and find togetherness during an often-challenging time.
Here’s how you can create meaningful support networks with a few simple steps
Bring your resources together
To create support networks, you need people. But it shouldn’t be about one person doing all the leg work. You can begin right off the bat with mobilising your friends and family.
Mobilise people in lots of three. If the first-person rings three people and asks each of those people to ring three people, and those three in turn follow the pattern, you’ll have everyone from immediate family to distant cousins or trusted friends included in no time.
It also helps to send a short text afterwards so everyone remembers who to call and can get to the details quickly.
Make it targeted support
Most people will want to help, but they won’t know how. And even if you know how they want to help, you might get thirty people doing the same thing. So, a little order is helpful.
One of the best ways to make sure the message stays consistent is to also write it out.
This is an easy to follow four step process where you let people know:
- The brief details of a situation
- What the impacts of the situation are on the person in question
- A call to arms or action to support the person
- A potential task you can delegate
- Dad has been admitted to hospital because he’s had a nasty fall
- It means he won’t be returning home and we have to move him to aged care
- We need help making that move possible
- Is there any chance you can come and pack boxes on Saturday?
And any role is a good role. For example, the scenario above could mean anything from having someone lend their Ute to move things, babysit kids while people do the heavy lifting, or ideas on where to donate stuff that isn’t useful in the aged care environment but still has life left in it.
View it as a project with a TO DO list and help people find their way to help you.
Play to people’s strengths
The idea of supportive networks is to make sure they are living, breathing organisms that grow and strengthen the length of the support journey.
You may have a high-pressure situation related to a big event like the aged care example above.
But most support networks grow in strength and momentum when they are applied to longer journeys. For example, if someone gets a cancer diagnosis. Or if an elderly parent loses a partner and their care needs change as a result.
That means you need to consider who should do what in terms of:
- The task being in their wheelhouse – so something they can do again and again without it being an issue or trial. The idea is to make someone feel competent and valuable as a result of the role they play in supporting the person in question
- The time they have available – e.g., different people do have different family needs, job demands and available time. Effective support networks allow for people to feel valuable without it straining their time and resources
- The value it adds to the situation at the time – not everyone has a role to play right at the beginning of a situation. You may find that people within your support network aren’t activated until circumstances change. E.g., a person who is literate in end-of-life care might be needed much, much more in a terminal stage than when someone receives a life-limiting diagnosis. Or someone who is a whizz in the kitchen might be needed more once cooking becomes harder and harder to do.
Whatever the case may be, it’s important to create space for people to thrive in their caring roles.
Bust through the stoicism – but go gently
It can be difficult to accept help, especially if a person has been independent for a significant portion of their life. And there will be a lot of times when help will be sent away, especially if it isn’t defined well.
When a person’s care needs change, it doesn’t just affect the person you are trying to help. It has a dramatic impact on partners, kids and anyone within that person’s immediate sphere.
The trick is finding the balance between what you can identify might be needed and ensuring the people involved still feel in control of their lives.
It is not perfect system, but you can take some of the load by:
- Being specific about the kind of help you are going to give. Saying “let me know if you need anything” puts the emotional labour on the person in crisis. They already have enough to think about. A better approach may be to say, “I am doing the grocery shop on Wednesday. Give me your list and I will pick up your stuff, too” or something similar.
- Challenging the notion help is not required. “I know there is something I can do. Let me help you” can affirm that you are serious and available.
- Consistently being present and checking in. Eventually, that consistency can pay off with trust and delegation can begin.
- Providing things you know that are needed without consultation. “I know you’re at the hospital today, so I brought you a lasagne, so you don’t need to worry about dinner.”
From specific tasks to getting the day-to-day stuff organised to free up space for care, your support network can do wonders in making your people feel supported.
Automate what you know
Creating documentation or using project management software can help you manage someone’s care better. Using programs like Trello or a simple Excel can help coordinate the care you need to provide.
You can also articulate what care looks like for the person you are supporting. And, with the person’s permission, share what support looks like to them with your support network.
For example, using ExSitu’s Hierarchy of Values, you can articulate what matters to a person in terms of their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual care needs. Having a map of this sort of information can ensure you are customising the support you’re offering to the person in question.
You can also use the advance care plan as a way of meeting support needs even if the person can no longer articulate to you.
Taking someone through this process can also spark a lot of conversation about what care looks like for all involved. And this is super helpful when creating support networks because you have a picture of the person’s needs. As well as getting a handle on each person’s version of what care looks like to them.
Acing support networks
And the number one tip with support networks is make sure you look after yourself. No matter how wonderfully skilled you are or how much your person needs you, burn out is a very real possibility. No one person can be all things to all people. Relying on others to help create a supportive environment, delegating tasks and checking in with your own stress levels make being supportive easier.
How you care about yourself will determine the care you can give to others.
Want to tailor the support you need? Check out our Hierarchy of Values and all ExSitu has to offer.