We all have people in our lives we depend on. They might be the people we turn to for practical help, spiritual guidance, or a fun night out. We have friends who have stood by us in hard times, and family members with whom we have fought and reconciled.
Our mental and often physical well-being hinges on having a good social support network. The principle of natural supports recognizes the central importance of the support that a youth’s, parent’s, and other family members receive “naturally.”
In this case, naturally means independently from any formal service system. These sources of natural support are sustainable and most likely to be available for the youth/child and family after wraparound and other formal services have ended.
The wraparound process recognizes the importance of long-term connections between people, particularly the bonds between friends and family members, because we know that people who have long-term relationships with a child or family have a unique stake in and commitment to the family’s outcomes.
The primary source of natural support is the family’s network of interpersonal relationships. This includes friends, extended family, neighbors, co-workers, church members, and so on. Natural support is also available to the family through community institutions, organizations, and associations such as churches, clubs, libraries, or sports leagues.
Professionals and paraprofessionals who interact with the family primarily offer paid support. However, they can also become connected to family members through caring relationships that exceed the boundaries, expectations and time limits of their formal roles. When they act in this way, professionals and paraprofessionals too can become sources of natural support.
Practical experience with wraparound has shown that formal service providers often fail to access or engage potential team members from the family’s community and informal support networks.
There is a tendency for these important relationships to be underrepresented on wraparound teams. Letting this happen is a mistake. People who represent sources of natural support often have a high degree of importance and influence within family members’ lives. These relationships bring value to the wraparound process by broadening the diversity of support, knowledge, skills, perspectives, and strategies available to the team.
Such individuals and organizations also may be able to provide certain types of support that more formal or professional providers find hard to provide. The principle of natural support emphasizes the need for the team to act intentionally to encourage the full participation of team members representing sources of natural support.