Person-Centred Planning Seminar

by Dr Anne-Marie Rooney, Standards Officer, National Disability Authority,


The National Disability Authority hosted a seminar at the Burlington Hotel, Dublin, on 30 November 2005, to support the adoption of its recently published guidelines on person-centred planning. An Tanaiste Mary Harney TD sent a 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”.’ Her message was read at the opening of the seminar.

The seminar was attended by almost 100 delegates. Among 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 event 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 (PCP), by eleven guest speakers. The aim of the guest speaker series was to address frequently asked questions on the practice of PCP, 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 PCP 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 PCP, 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 PCP, 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 how it is being implemented. This presentation was particularly valuable because of the fact that Marie Therese’s plan is in no way standardised, but is very much her own, in terms of both content and form; it is also a very clearly action-oriented plan that is getting results.

Speaking in a personal capacity, James Rickard, Dublin, made a brief but significant presentation indicating the need to develop advocacy and other complementary skills alongside person-centred planning skills, so as 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 respectful, equal, trusting, caring, reliable and mutually supportive. Patricia described, in some depth, how such relation.ships and alliances could be forged.

Kathy O’Grady Reilly, Senior Psychologist with SCJM Services, gave some very practical and useful ideas on how to work out the level of supports required for PCP, based on her own experience in Valley Bungalows, Mullingar, and using the AAMR ‘Supports Intensities Scale’.

Kay Downey Ennis presented the approach adopted by the Daughters of Charity Services in introducing PCP into one of its services. Kay’s presentation was particularly helpful in that she described not only how each stage of the process has evolved, but also how each stage has been experienced by various participants. Kay summarised the lessons learned from her experience in the form of a general set of keys to success in establishing PCP in services. Significantly, the Daughters of Charity began their work in this area by developing their own definition of PCP. Management, staff and service users worked together to reach 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 of RehabCare described that organisation’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 made by each individual service user’s person-centred plan, 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.and.every 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, also 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 that are better tailored to individual requirements and preferences.

Geraldine Graydon, National Parents’ Council, gave some valuable insights into a parent’s experience of developing and championing a person-centred plan. She 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 to the people with disabilities and their families served by the organisation.

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

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

The seminar closed with expressions of thanks to all who contributed in various ways to a very interesting event and a word of encouragement to everyone to keep in touch with each other, so as to ensure that everyone wishing to pursue PCP further would be supported in realising this ambition.

The NDA’s guidelines on Person-centred planning may be accessed on their website: or obtained in printed form (in regular, jargon-free plain English, easy-to-read summary and large-print formats), audio tape or Braille formats, by contacting the NDA at 01-6080400-


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