Why is supported decision making important?

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Supported decision making is giving a person with affected decision making the tools and support they need to make a decision for themselves.

Key points

  • Supported decision making is an important part of choice and control for some people with disability
  • A support person should help with supported decision making by understanding what an individual wants to communicate
  • Family members, friends, health professionals, NDIS workers and Government organisations should all understand supported decision making

The decision could be about a financial, health, legal, lifestyle, work related or other matter and the support is important because it gives people with disability choice and control over their lives.

Supported decision making is not the same as having someone appointed to make decisions on behalf of a person with affected decision making.

People who will benefit from supported decision making include people whose ability to make independent decisions is affected due to:

  • brain injury
  • stroke
  • intellectual disability
  • neurological conditions
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia

Where does the support come from?

Support people to assist with decision making come in many shapes and forms and may be chosen by an individual because of the bond they have, their expertise, how easy it is to communicate with them or a variety of other reasons.

A support person could be:

  • A parent, sibling or other close family member
  • A close friend
  • A doctor or nurse
  • An allied health professional
  • An advocate

The types of environments where a support person may be needed include hospitals and health clinics, banks, court rooms, workplaces, meetings with Government departments like Centrelink or the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and in meetings with lawyers.

How should a support person act?

The most important part of the support person’s role is to be able to understand what the person being supported is trying to communicate and to make sure their voice is heard.

The person being supported should always make the final decision and feel that they have made that decision themselves, not that their support person has made the decision for them.

Part of this is also to understand how the person wants to be supported, to be able to help them in that way, and to take into account that there might be several support people in an individual’s life that they will turn to for support in different areas.

This is because there are different parts of decision making that people might need support with, ranging from making sure that decisions are taken seriously to thinking about the consequences of the decision.

Any individual who is in a supported decision making situation should have people around them who they trust to support them completely.

Other traits a support person should have include:

  • Respect for the person they are supporting
  • Valuing that person’s independence and dignity
  • Knowledge of the person’s goals, values and preferences
  • Be willing to help without gaining anything for themselves
  • Have the time to provide the support needed

A support person might also document the support they have given and document the decision that was made so that others can see that the person being supported received the right help.

Who needs to know about supported decision making?

Anyone who will be involved in decisions in a person’s life, where they need some help to make those decisions, should learn about supported decision making.

This includes family members, friends, health professionals, legal professionals, advocates, support workers and Government organisations.

However, these people are often not trained in the importance of supported decision making or how to make sure support is provided, so a person with affected decision making ability might also need help to advocate for themselves to be able to make their own decisions

There are some helpful resources about decision making for people that need support and for supporters on the ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS) website.

What else would you like to know about supported decision making? Tell us in the comments below.

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