What is a microboard?
A Microboard is a group of people in unpaid relationships with a person with disability who meet regularly to support that person to make plans, make decisions, be socially included, be safe and well and to have the life they want.
Microboards are usually made up family, friends, former support workers or other professionals, long term community connections, or anyone who is there to work as a team to help the person achieve the life they choose now and into the future.
Microboards Australia support the group to incorporate to create a not for profit association supporting just that one person - you can read more below for the reasons why a group might choose to legally incorporate. Microboards have a constitution which is based on a modified version of the model rules of the state in which the board is incorporating. We help Microboards to develop their constitutions and tailor them for the person.
The minimum number of board members varies according to which state you are in - between 5 and 7 people. Most people and families worry about where they will find Microboard members -but that is part of our role in supporting you. Our facilitators guide you through a process of identifying and inviting people to be part of a Microboard.
The aim of a microboard is also to safeguard quality of life even when parents/key caregivers are no longer able to. Microboards Australia support Microboards across every step of planning the Microboard through to holding Annual General Meetings. We support members to understand their role on the Microboard and how to develop and maintain the life the focus person wants.
As an incorporated association, Microboards can also employ support workers or mentors as an alternative pathway in self-management of NDIS funds where a group of people shares the responsibility of recruiting, employing and managing the person's team.
With support, Microboards have been shown to be a sustainable model of support across the lifespan of a person with disability. Of course there are times when there can be challenges, and that's why Microboards Australia are committed to being there for individual Microboards when they need help or guidance.
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At the centre of the Microboard is the person themself directing their supports in ways that matter to them.
Is a Microboard a Circle of Support?
Microboards are based on the same ideas as Circles of Support. In fact many Microboards begin by forming a Circle of Support first.
Microboards and Circles are both made up of friends, family, former workers, and other community members who know and like the focus person and enjoy spending time with them, or who are willing to get to know them better.
Microboards and Circles both meet regularly (usually every 1 – 2 months), and focus on social relationships, planning with the person, supporting their decision making (as needed) and ensuring the person is mentally and physically safe and well.
The differences between Circles and Microboards are mainly about the incorporation process. Microboards incorporate to become a not for profit organisation that supports just one person.
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There are three main benefits to incorporating:
- Incorporation seems to help Microboards to last for many years as members make a legal agreement to maintain the number of members and meetings. The requirement to report annually on the Microboard's status means it is harder for a Microboard to lose its momentum and to stop having regular meetings or to stop meeting altogether unless a formal decision process is undertaken.
- Incorporation means there is a legally binding constitution which members agree to so everyone knows what the purpose of the Microboard is. The principles are embedded in the constitution so everyone knows and agrees to important things like being person-centred and supporting the focus person's decision making.
- Microboards can offer an alternative form of self-management where the Microboard is the employer of staff and takes on the responsibility of payroll and other legal obligations of employing staff. Microboards can assist with recruitment, training and management of paid support teams so that the responsibility does not rest only with the focus person or their parent. Not all Microboards employ staff.
Microboards and Circles of Support have both been shown to be positive supports for people - one is not a better model than the other. Microboards will suit some people's needs, and Circles of Support will be the best fit for others. Anyone who has a Circle of Support can change over to a Microboard later if they want to. It's really about thinking about your needs and capacity, and making the best choice for you.
What a Microboard can do
Microboards are all unique and tailored to the needs and wishes of the focus person. Although Microboards can have varied roles, they all have certain things in common. They seeks, through relationships, to uphold a person’s rights and decision making across their life and in ways that are safe, sustainable and achievable over time.
The role of a Microboard may include:
- Helping to plan and make decisions about the person's day to day life, or big things to want to achieve
- Brainstorming ideas for how we may get there and who to enlist to support
- Advocating for what the person needs, or wants to aspire
- Monitoring the person's wellbeing and the supports they are engaged with
- Helping the person to connect to their wider community, and to be fully included
- Doing fun things together and experience joy in everyday life
An incorporated microboard can also employ, train and manage support workers as part of their support network.
Why do we incorporate a Microboard?
When the main supporters like parents or siblings are unable to continue to maintain oversight of their family member's quality of life and wellbeing, having a Microboard means that the person with a disability still has people around them that know them really well and can support them to continue building a good life. The legal structure of a Microboard means that Microboard members have permission and documented roles and ways of supporting the person which can continue to reflect the values and vision of the person and their family.Microboards are a holistic support which can oversight of all of the domains of a person's life including daily routines, support needs, activities, learning, housing, transport, equipment, communication, decision making and health and wellbeing.
Families or other supporters in close relationship with the person often wonder how any other person or group of people can ever know the person like they do, and understand all of the complexities and nuances of their support needs. We would agree that is a big ask! However, the Microboard does not need to know all of the person's support needs at any one time - but they do need to know where to find that information when they need it. That's why Microboards Australia assists Microboards in documenting each person's support needs in ways that are easily accessible to members. Part of our role is also supporting Microboards to find effective ways to train support workers and have oversight over the quality of supports given.
The evidence from British Columbia where the Microboard model has been active for the longest period of time - more than 40 years - is that legal incorporation seems to help to make Microboards sustainable over the years and decades. We think this is because the process of joining a Microboard is actually a legal commitment.
The legal requirements for Microboards include things like having a minimum number of people on the Microboard, which means it is less like that the number of people in the group will fall away. There must be formal roles like Chair and Secretary who are responsible for ensuring the board meet regularly and follow due process. A certain number of meetings must be held each year, which means it is less likely the group will lose its energy to keep meeting. Records of meetings must be kept. Annual reports must be submitted to the relevant Government department in your state. All of these legal requirements act to support Microboards to keep running across the lifespan of the person with disability.
Microboards embed supported decision making into their constitutions, which means that all members make a legal commitment to support the person to have as much engagement in decision making as possible. The person at the centre of the microboard is more likely have sustained support to maintain or increase the level of control they have over their lives.
Microboards can employ staff as an alternative form of self-management where the board shares the responsibility of recruiting, employing, training and managing the person's team. Usually Microboards who are employing staff engage a qualified book keeper to manage payroll and other legal aspects of employment. This means that decisions about how the person's funding is used are discussed and shared by the person, their family and the Microboard. Microboards like all incorporated associations must by law report on their financial management, which supports implementation of good financial ethics and practice.
Many people want to find ways to support a person with disability who they know, but are uncertain about how and often anxious about making a mistake. Having formally documented roles and rules about how to support the person (the constitution and principles) gives community members confidence and permission to know what is expected of them and also how to support a person with disability in ways which uphold their human rights, safety and inclusion in their community.
Having a constitution is also a protection against dishonesty or conflicts of interest. The constitution also maps out how to deal with conflicts between board members in an ethical way so if a conflict does arise, everyone on the board knows what to do.
Incorporation also means that there are clear points where a Microboard member can leave the board, or take a break, as they need to. It is very important that Microboard members do not feel excessive responsibility to stay on a Microboard if it is not the right time for them to be a member. Annual General Meetings (AGMs) offer a natural entry and exit point for members, and Microboard members can give notice that they are taking a break in advance of an AGM so the board has time to replace them.
Microboards formalise the vision for the person's life by embedding it in the association objectives to which all members must work to. They also must keep records of what is discussed in meetings including how plan and decisions are made. This offers a layer of accountability to the board to be acting in alignment with the vision and values of the person.
Research shows that Microboards are an effective means of supporting outcomes like Quality of Life, safety, self-determination, and relationships and friendships. A study in 2020 by Deakin University has also showed the benefits of Microboard approaches during childhood.