by Kathy O’Grady-Reilly


The National Disability Authority hosted a seminar at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, on 30 November, to support the adoption of its recently published guidelines on person-centred planning. An Tánaiste Mary Harney TD sent a welcomed message of support and encouragement for the occasion, noting that: ‘One of the basic principles of the Health Strategy is that services should be “People-centred”.’

The seminar was attended by almost 100 delegates. Amongst those present and/or presenting were people with disabilities and their parents, families, advocates and representative groups; service providers; various funding bodies; educators and employers; and representatives from the Department of Health and Children, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The seminar was opened by Siobhán Barron, Acting Director of the NDA, and chaired by Mary Van Lieshout, Head of Research and Standards Development at the NDA. The seminar began with a presentation of the new national guidelines by Dr Anne-Marie Rooney, Person Centred Planning Project Leader for the NDA.

Her presentation was followed by a series of short presentations on the Irish experience of person-centred planning, by eleven guest speakers. The aim of the guest speaker series was to address frequently asked questions on the practice of person-centred planning, with practical examples from current Irish experience, as a complement to the more general recommendations set out in the guidelines document.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Michael Corbett addressed the very important, fundamental question of why person-centred planning should be considered, and how it could make a difference to the lives of people with disabilities and the services and supports they receive. Acknowledging the potential of person-centred planning, Michael cautioned against the development of new systems, professions and bureaucracies, and urged intending practitioners to stay focused on the person and the whole point of person-centred planning, which is to ensure better lives and services for people with disabilities.

Using practical examples, Karina Wallis, Head of Evaluation and Person Centred Training, SCJM Services, explored how a person-centred culture might manifest itself in services and the broader community, and how it might be experienced by a person with a disability. Karina then went on to describe, in some detail, how a more person-centred approach has made an enormous, positive difference to two people with disabilities with whom she is familiar, where other approaches, previously adopted, had not been found to be particularly useful to them.

Marie Therese Corbett, from Westmeath, described how her own person-centred plan is developing and being implemented. This presentation was particularly valuable because of the fact that Marie Therese’s plan is in no way standardized—but is very much her own, in terms of both content and form; it is also an action-oriented plan that is getting results.

James Rickard, Dublin, made a brief but significant presentation, indicating the need to develop advocacy and other complementary skills alongside person-centred planning skills, to ensure that plans do, indeed, get put into action.

Professor Patricia O’Brien, Director of the National Institute for the Study of Learning Disabilities, Trinity College, Dublin, pointed out that effective relationships and alliances are equally essential to putting plans into action. Patricia defined these as those relationships that are respectful, equal, trusting, caring, reliable and mutually supportive. She described how effective relationships and alliances could be forged.

Kathy O’Grady Reilly, Senior Psychologist with SCJM Services, gave some very practical ideas on how to work out support intensities required for person-centred planning, based on her own experience in Valley Bungalows, Mullingar, and using the American AAMR ‘Supports Intensities Scale’.

Kay Downey Ennis, Daughters of Charity Services, presented the approach adopted by that organisation in introducing person-centred planning into one of its services. Kay’s presentation was particularly helpful in that she described how each stage has been experienced by various participants as the process has evolved. Kay summarised and generalised the lessons learned from her experience in the form of a general set of keys to success in establishing person-centred planning in services. Significantly, the Daughters of Charity began their work on person-centred planning by developing a definition of their own. Management, staff and service users worked together to come up with a good definition that made sense to them. In this way, everyone had a clear understanding and sense of ownership of the process from its outset.

Kevin Barnes described RehabCare’s approach to capturing key requirements of individual person-centred plans so that they might inform services’ overall strategic plans. This is a significant issue, and not just for service providers. In order to be able to properly meet the demands that each individual service user’s person-centred plan makes of them, it is important for service providers to get an overall picture of what is being asked of them by everyone. In this way they can plan the best use of the resources that are available to them and begin to develop services that are better tailored to the needs of each service user. Kevin’s presentation gave some very helpful, practical ideas on how to get started on this process.

John O Dwyer and Anthony Kiernan, Gheel Autism Services, made a significant contribution on change management to the seminar. They described Gheel’s research and experience in supporting, tracking, applying and assessing ongoing learning within services, as new forms of support are developed, better tailored to individual requirements and preferences.

Geraldine Graydon of the National Parents’ Council gave some valuable insight into a parent’s experience of developing and championing a person-centred plan. Geraldine again underlined the need for ongoing commitment to concerted action to ensure that plans are put into action. She also called for more person-centred, flexible and responsive systems of funding that would enable services to be more responsive to person centred plans through requiring accountability for the deployment of funds, first and foremost to the people with disabilities and families served by them.

The keynote address by Paul Cambridge, of the Tizard Centre in Kent, complemented other speakers’ presentations of the Irish experience with an international perspective on person-centred planning in practice. Paul emphasised the need for: person centred organisations; circles and networks of support; advocacy and empowerment; independent location of person centred planning within or, preferably, altogether outside existing systems; communication and inclusion; links with wider systems; and competence at all levels. Paul also emphasised the need to track progress and monitor the impact of person-centred planning processes, plans and outcomes at individual, service and national levels.

A lively questions-and-answers session followed Paul’s presentation. The matters of risk, responsibility, resources, choices and next steps, were each discussed in some detail.

The seminar closed with expressions of thanks to all who had contributed to the very interesting seminar and a word of encouragement to everyone to keep in touch with each other, and to ensure that everyone wishing to pursue person-centred planning would be supported in realising that ambition.

The NDA’s guidelines on person-centred planning may be accessed on their website: www.nda.ie and are available in print (regular, jargon-free plain English, easy-to-read summary and large-print formats), audio tape or Braille formats, by contacting the NDA, Tel: 01-6080400-


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