Informal Supports

Informal supports are the many forms of helpfulness and assistance people freely give to each other in daily life. This include support a person receives from their parents, siblings, other family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours and other people in their community.

A peer network can have a good conversation about informal supports, and there is much people can share.  Here are some of the aspects of informal supports that could be used to guide a conversation about informal supports during peer support network meetings.

The importance of informal supports

When we need some advice, help thinking through a problem, or practical assistance for a task we cannot do on our own, we all call on people we know. This is a support network and it is important that we all have one. For a person living with disability, a support network may be especially important if they need particular or more assistance in daily activities. A wide and growing network of informal supports is key to keeping people feeling supported and safe.

Types of informal supports

Informal supports can include emotional support, role models, a warm welcome to an event and invitation to join a group or club or activity, physical assistance, and other things that will help a person in natural ways to have a richer life. Informal support could be a ride to an event, helping a person learn a new skill, inclusion in an activity, coaching, advocacy, problem solving, listening, a reminder, companionship, and friendship.

Sometimes informal supports can be more intentional. An example of an intentional informal support is a Circle of Support. A Circle of Support is a group of people who come together to protect and advance the interests of someone living with disability into the future. A Circle of Support is not responsible for ‘caring for’ the person, but instead are there to ‘look out’ for the person. An effective Circle of Support can have a strong voice and can help people to identify, share, and achieve their hopes and dreams. Members of the Circle of Support know and care about the person, know the person’s history and know the person’s ambitions. Circle of Support members might include family members, friends, and other people who are interested in being involved in the person’s life in the long term. A Circle of Support starts with a Circle Facilitator who helps the person to identify who else could be in their Circle of Support. The Circle Facilitator will invite these people to join the Circle of Support and will help the Circle of Support members and the person to connect with each other and as a group. These catch-ups are fun but are also an opportunity for the person to share important things happening in their life and to work out how everyone can contribute to the person achieving their hopes and dreams.

Informal supports and safeguarding

Safeguards are supports that promote and protect an individual’s human rights, decision-making, wellbeing, and quality of life. When people are at risk of their rights being compromised, safeguards provide responses to minimise this risk. Safeguards operate at different levels, from an individual and community level, through to Government legislation. Informal supports can be a good safeguard, particularly at the individual level.

Individual safeguarding can involve getting to know the person, and their history, choices and aspirations. It also involves building a trusting relationship with the person and being involved with their day-to-day life. Individual safeguarding involves empowering the person and representing their interests. All of these actions are types of informal supports, which make informal supports a great way to safeguard people’s rights, interests and wellbeing.

Informal supports and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

The NDIS aims to increase the social and economic participation of people living with disability within the context of the support networks they already have in place. The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) recognises that informal supports are critical for the NDIS to be effective and that the NDIS is designed to complement, not replace, these informal supports. Accordingly, the NDIA knows how important it is to protect the informal supports in place in the lives of NDIS participants.

In their operational guidelines, the NDIA state that during the planning process they will identify the informal supports in place in NDIS participants’ lives and will identify how these informal supports can be sustained.

In recognising the important role that families play in providing informal support, and sustaining this support, the NDIS provides funding to support families. The NDIA funds family support and counselling related to the disability that a family member lives with and capacity building in family members in relation to disability and family life. The NDIA also provides supports to increase NDIS participants’ independence and supports aimed to increase the sustainability of family caring arrangements.


Useful links and resources

The Community Living Project guide includes information about the aims and benefits of Circles of Support:

The Government of Western Australia’s Disability Services Commission released a position paper about individual safeguarding:…/Disability-Services-Commission-Position-Paper-Individual-safeguarding.pdf

The NDIS has information about sustaining informal supports in the lives of NDIS participants:

NDIS operational guidelines about supports for sustaining informal supports:

NDIS information about funding family support:

Co-authored by JFA Purple Orange

The information on this page is also available as a downloadable Quick Guide, by clicking below. There are.pdf and word versions.