Your child’s life is full of choices. Some might be small, like what to eat for breakfast or what color socks to wear. But others will be big, like what medical treatment to pick, what classes to take in school, or what kind of career they want to have.
Many of these choices affect your child’s health, how they take part in their community, and more. As a parent, you want your child to make as many of their own choices as they can manage. Though sometimes, you or other people might need to make choices for them. No matter what, you want the decisions that affect your child’s life to be made in a way that’s wise, thoughtful, and has your child’s thoughts and opinions at the center. The person-centered planning model can help.
Person-centered planning (sometimes called PCP) is a problem-solving process for people with disabilities or special health care needs. It includes a written plan on how your child can work towards their wants, hopes, and dreams. It helps your child get support and share decision-making with you and the other people who care for them. A person-centered plan might include dreams about the future – like jobs, health care decisions, and housing choices—or ways to honor everyday preferences, like wearing clothes with no tags or what brand of medical supplies are most comfortable. It’s an important tool in helping your child get more independence and better care throughout their life.
To start the person-centered planning process, a group of people who are committed to your child get together to help your child plan for their future. This might be people from your child’s school, their medical team, caretakers, friends, family members, and you. The most important person in that group is your child. Anyone else who cares for and spends a lot of time with them can also be part of the process. You and your child should help decide who will be in the group.
Most of the time the person-centered planning process includes a facilitator (or meeting leader) who will organize things and invite everyone. They can make sure everyone gets a chance to talk, and they can write down answers on a big piece of paper or whiteboard that everyone can see. This person might be trained for this job or might be just a family friend who is neutral and calm. We also have some links below to places where you can learn to lead this process yourself.
Person-centered planning can take place in a lot of different settings: in your home, at school, in a meeting room, or at the hospital. Your group leader should work with you and your child to find a place that’s comfortable.
Person-centered planning can:
A person-centered plan should include sections on:
Depending on your child’s age, your group might ask them questions like:
Your child and the group can talk more about these questions and answers. Then the leader can ask your child how they think they can reach their goals – big and small – and the rest of the group can talk about that too. The group may figure out certain skills your child needs to build and where they need more help from the people around them. You can talk about what risks might be okay for your child to take so that they can grow.
The group will write out a plan with actions that you, your child, and the rest of the group members will take. Some plans are 1 page profiles, others are many pages. FACT Oregon has some sample person-centered plans and planning templates.
If your child isn’t verbal, or doesn’t have a full vision of what they want for the future yet, they can still do person-centered planning. The rest of the people in the group can share the things that they’ve seen that your child likes and dislikes. And you might ask your child to draw pictures or point to things that they like and want.
There are different ways to use person-centered planning with children with disabilities or special health care needs. It might be used to:
Some schools use a person-centered planning process when they start talking about your child’s transition out of public education. Doing a person-centered planning process outside of school is a good way to help your child build a personal network that gives them community support into their adult life. If your child has a mental health condition, a person-centered approach will help them get treatment that looks at them as a whole person.
Sometimes in the person-centered planning process, you’ll hear things you don’t expect. Your child might say, “I want to have a girlfriend,” or “I want to be a fighter jet pilot.” You might not think these are easy dreams for your child to reach. And you might get really uncomfortable talking about them.
But take a deep breath and get ready to ask more questions. By being curious, you have a chance to learn some important things about your child. Talking about what it means to have a girlfriend might help your child want to work on a better self-care routine or go to a social skills class. Talking about why they want to be a pilot might help you realize they really want to be around planes, so a job working at an airport would make them happy.
Even if the size of the goal seems too big, there’s probably some part of it that you can help them achieve.
There are a lot of different ways to do person-centered planning. Essential Life Planning (ELP), Personal Futures Planning, PATH, and MAPS are a few common ones. All of them will put your child at the center of planning for their own life and future.
Here are some places where you can find help with person-centered planning: