Family Councils 101
A Family Council is a group of family members and friends of the residents of a long-term care home (LTC) who gather together for peer support, education, and to improve the experiences of all people in long-term care.
Since the 1990’s, family members and friends of long-term care residents have gathered together to help each other as caregivers, work to improve their loved one’s long-term care home, learn about the issues affecting residents, and seek to create positive changes in the long-term care system. These efforts are the foundation of the Family Councils of today!
What started as a grassroots movement to engage families in long-term care grew into an organized pilot project to create more Councils and eventually into what we have today: organized, effective Family Councils in hundreds of long-term care homes across Ontario, all with powers given to them by legislation, and supported by Family Councils Ontario.
A Family Council is defined as an organized, self-led, self-determining, democratic group composed of the family members and friends of a long-term care home.
Breaking that down, this means that Councils have the following characteristics:
- Have structure, rules, and methods of operation that organize the group’s work and processes (Terms of Reference, Code of Conduct, leadership model with role descriptions, meeting guidelines, etc…)
- Councils are led by the members, not home staff
- Councils determine their own processes, goals, and activities (within the parameters of The Long-Term Care Homes Act) without interference by home staff
- Councils abide by the principles of democracy by favouring social equality and giving every member a voice in decisions (e.g. all members vote for Council leaders and on all motions)
- Is a group: members come together regularly, share a sense of purpose, and have common goals and objectives
Each Council across Ontario will be different, but they all seek to create safe, vibrant, and supportive LTC homes for residents, families, and staff. They share common goals. Read more about each of the four main Family Council goals below:
- Support: A Family Council can be a great source of mutual support to family members and offer guidance to new families during their transition to long-term care. No one knows what a family member is going through like another family member! By being involved in a Family Council, you can give and receive emotional, informational, and practical support.
- Education: Family Councils provide a mechanism for family members to learn and gain an understanding of the home and how it operates. Many Councils also invite guest speakers from the community and from within the long-term care home to present information/resources on various topics (for example, how to have meaningful visits with residents who have dementia, Power of Attorney, End of Life Care).
- Problem-solving: Also called advocacy, Family Councils advocate regarding collective concerns to improve residents’ quality of life. Councils can bring concerns to the administration of the home and make suggestions for improvements. These could be improvements to the physical layout of the home (example: creating a safe walkway around the property); suggestions for new programs and activities for residents (example: new weekend programs or activity boxes available for families to use with their resident); collective concerns about menus, laundry service, or staffing levels); and ways to connect the home to the broader community (for example, working with the local transit authority to have the community bus service the long-term care home).
- Communication: Family Councils provide an opportunity for families to be informed about what is happening in the home. Councils can use their meetings and other communication tools (website, emails) to share information from the home to family members. Councils can also solicit ideas, feedback, and suggestions from members and share that with the home.
In Ontario, Family Councils are included in the legislation governing LTC homes, The Long-Term Care Homes Act, and have powers to advise the home leadership of concerns and make recommendations to improve the home. The Act also outlines Council membership (who can and cannot be a member of the Council), the role of staff and administration, and specific duties of the home to support, communicate with, and report to the Council.
Councils can request a home staff person be appointed to help them in their work. This person is known as a Staff Assistant. They assist the Council and attend meetings on request to provide information, updates, and generally act as a liaison between the home administration and Council.
Impact of Councils and how to start your own
Today, there are hundreds of Family Councils and thousands of Council members across Ontario who work to improve the experience of people living, working, and loving someone in long-term care. Together, they are improving the quality of life and culture of long-term care.
For more information about Family Councils, read the FAQs. To learn how to start a Family Council, visit How To Start A Family Council or contact us! We’re here to help you create and maintain an effective Family Council.