A common question we get asked is "What should we include in our Family Council Terms of Reference?"
As Councils develop and undergo change, a Terms of Reference is an important organizational tool. The Terms of Reference need to be designed and discussed by the entire Council so everyone understands the common purpose of the Council, Council goals and how the Council will operate.
Typical sections of the Terms of Reference include:
Purpose or mission: The main purpose of a Council is to improve the quality of life of residents and give family and friends a forum for sharing their experiences, support each other, learn and exchange information. Write your purpose so it reflects the uniqueness of your Council.
Goals: The goals of a Council can be general in focus to allow for a variety of activities, for example informing and educating families, or sharing ideas for the purpose of problem solving. We recommend the Council think about one project that is in line with the goals to do during the year, whether it’s recognizing a special staff member and having an event to celebrate that or making sure the residents who have no visitors are visited on a regular basis. The goals and associated activities will be as varied as the interests of the members of the Council.
Membership: This is an important discussion for your Council. It is important to discuss what happens when a member’s resident dies, if that member should stay on the Council and for how long. This is important because often when a resident is no longer in the Home the family does not visit the Home anymore, which may lead to a lack of awareness of or involvement in issues, changes or events in the Home. Councils are for families and by families who are involved in the life of the Home and if a person is no longer in the Home except for the once a month Council meeting then it may be time for that member to step away. Each Council is different but it is very important to discuss this so that everyone understands what role a member who no longer has a loved one in the Home will play.
Lead volunteers (or elected executives): some Councils operate informally while others have elections and use the democratic process to guide who is taking the lead. It is important to have someone lead meetings – but this doesn’t need to be the same person every meeting. LTC Home Staff should not be chairing Council meetings or taking minutes; these tasks are best managed by the Council members. Noting your meetings is important and having the minutes accessible to all families, not just Council members, is the best practice. It can encourage other families to get involved by raising awareness of the goals and activities of the Council. Remember: all Council members are responsible for the functioning of the Council. Encourage participation, ask for help, and appreciate each member’s contribution no matter how small.
Meeting amendments: This section is to allow for changes to the Terms of Reference once they are approved. Sometimes once a Council has undergone a change you want to add something to the Terms of Reference. How and when this can be done should be included in this section.
Review Process: Include in the document when the Terms of Reference will be reviewed. This should be done yearly if not more often, including but not limited to when there has been a major change in Council membership.
A well thought out Terms of Reference can really help a Council stay on track and not lose their focus as membership is often ever changing. Check out the Terms of Reference section of the Family Council Handbook, Your Guide to Starting and Maintaining a Family Council, on pages 44 and 45 for more ideas and information.