Frequently Asked Questions

Why should we have a Family Council? What are the benefits?

Family Councils:

  • Allows families to give each other ongoing mutual support and encouragement. Sharing thoughts and feelings with others who are in the same situation can help family members cope –e.g., when experiencing difficulties in adjusting to having a loved one in Long-Term Care
  • Provides a forum for learning – e.g., regarding residents’ rights, the health issues affecting residents (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease), or other relevant topics
  • Provides an opportunity to become knowledgeable about the Home’s operations, policies and rules. This can be especially helpful for families of new residents
  • Can help families and the Home form a positive partnership aimed at improving resident care
  • Offers family members a chance to express their collective concerns – a “united voice” supporting a “united effort.” In this way, a Family Council can be a catalyst for positive changes in residents’ daily lives, families’ experiences and in the Home in general
  • Can benefit residents who are physically or mentally unable to voice their needs and concerns as well as those without family
  • Can benefit the Long-Term Care Home by providing a means for staff to deal directly with families as a group and establish meaningful ongoing lines of communication. For example, staff may be able to use the Family Council as a sounding board for new ideas
  • Ultimately, improves residents’ quality of life and supports families of residents

If a family member has a concern, should that go to the Family Council?

It is important to be clear about what a Family Council can and cannot do. A Family Council handles group concerns, not individual concerns. Family members with specific concerns should speak to Long-Term Care Home staff and administration. Every Home is required to have a process for addressing individual concerns.

Do long-term care home staff chair the Family Council?

A Family Council may require that the Home assign a staff assistant (“Family Council Assistant” according to Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes Act). The Council may invite the Staff Assistant to attend meetings. The Family Council is an autonomous family-led group where Home staff plays an important, supportive role. As such, Family Council meetings generally should be chaired by a family member.

In addition to assigning a Staff Assistant, how can the long-term care home assist in organizing a Family Council?

In addition to providing a staff person to assist, here are some ways that a Long-Term Care Home can help family members and friends of residents to organize a Family Council:

  • Provide meeting space and donate refreshments.
  • Educate staff and encourage them to help generate interest in the Family Council.
  • Send out notices (e.g., in the Home’s own mailings to family members, etc.).
  • Dedicate a bulletin board to the Family Council.
  • Accept that sometimes family members may choose to meet in private without staff present. Suggest this to them if they have not thought about it or requested it.

Do residents participate in the Family Council?

Many homes have Residents’ Councils. It may seem that a Family Council and a Residents’ Council have much the same purpose and that they should be combined into one group. However, experience shows that many residents and family members have very different needs, interests, and abilities. Family members, who are often quicker and better able to express themselves, soon dominate a combined Council. Residents and families need their own separate Councils geared to their special situations and interests. Ideally, a Family Council and the Home’s Residents’ Council will keep each other informed and sometimes work in partnership.

Do Family Council members act as volunteers in the home?

Family Council participants volunteer their personal time to support Family Council activities in a home. This is not the same as the home’s volunteer program. Individuals who wish to pursue volunteer opportunities in a home should approach the home’s volunteer coordinator or other contact person. Some individuals may be both a Family Council member and a volunteer in the home. The two roles are related but distinct. The Family Council, as noted elsewhere, is an autonomous organized group, whereas volunteers take direction from staff.

If our Home has a Family Advisory Committee, do we need a Family Council?

Some homes may have a Family Advisory Committee that provides advice exclusively to the home. Family members, staff, community members, and other community agency representatives may sit on the Committee. This is not the same as a Family Council which provides assistance and advice to families/friends and residents in the home and makes recommendations to the home in the interests of residents and their families.

Should Family Councils fundraise?

The purpose of a Family Council is not to fundraise. Some Family Councils choose to engage in fundraising to provide for activities for items above what the home provides. The Family Council should not be raising funds for items that the home is required to provide. A long-term care home should provide funds for any activities that are part of the Home’s own programming. For example, the home may have its own art therapy program and will provide art supplies as part of that program. However, a Family Council may wish to provide special treats or activities for residents that are over and above what a home provides. The Family Council may also wish to provide residents with luxury items or upgrades that are over and above what a home has been providing.

Wherever money is concerned, you need to be very clear about what you want to achieve and how you go about achieving it. Before you fundraise, tap into some of the resources available on the internet. A good place to start is Imagine Canada’s Sector Source. Check out our fact sheet on fundraising.

The Long-Term Care Homes Act

What does the Long-Term Care Homes Act mean for Family Councils?

For the first time ever, Family Councils are included in the legislation governing Long-Term Care Homes in Ontario. The inclusion of Family Councils in the new Long-Term Care Homes Act was a major development that recognized the important contributions Family Councils make to long-term care homes and the long-term care sector in general.

What can a Family Council do? What are its powers under the Act?

The Act outlines several powers of a Family Council, such as providing assistance, information, and advice to residents, family members of residents, and persons of importance to residents, including when new residents are admitted to the home; advising residents, family members of residents and persons of importance to residents respecting their rights and obligations under the Act; sponsoring and planning activities for residents; advise the licensee of any concerns or recommendations the Council has about the operation of the home, and others.

As each Family Council is unique, the activities of each Family Council will vary.

What does the Act say about the membership of a Family Council?

The Act also indicates who can and cannot be a member of the Council. Persons who are not eligible to be members of the Council include the licensee of the home, home management, an officer or director of the licensee or of a corporation that manages the long-term care home on behalf of the licensee, a person with a controlling interest in the licensee, the Administrator of the home, any staff member, and any person employed by or in a contractual relationship by the Ministry of Health and/or Long-Term Care.

As Family Councils are autonomous and self-governed, they are responsible for creating their own Terms of Reference which outlines the group’s goals, structure, and operating procedures, including membership. Each Council sets its own membership including who may be a member and how long people can be Council members.

What role does the long-term care home play?

According to Section 65 of the Act, the licensee has a duty to cooperate with the Family Council and cannot interfere with the meetings or operations of the Council. Section 67 indicates that the licensee has a duty to consult regularly with the Family Council- at least every three months.

The Act says that every home may have a Family Council and that a family member or person of importance to a resident may request that a Family Council be established. The licensee must assist in the establishment of a Family Council within 30 days of receiving a request from a family member or person of importance to a resident.

Many Family Councils have positive and productive relationships with the staff and administration of the Home. Many staff members and administrators go above and beyond what is prescribed in the Act. The relationship between the Council and home staff and administration is important to a successful Family Council as it helps to ensure good communication and successful activities and initiatives of the Council.

If my loved one has passed away, does that mean I can’t continue to be a member of the Family Council?

No. Family Councils are self-led, autonomous groups who decide on their own membership within the framework provided in the Long-Term Care Homes Act.

The Act Subsection 59(5) provides that a family member of a resident or a person of importance to a resident is entitled to be a member of the Family Council of a LTC home and therefore cannot be refused membership. Subsection 59(6) of the LTCHA provides a list of the people that are not permitted to be a member of a Family Council (licensee, administrator, staff etc.).

As such, the Council can set provisions within its Terms of Reference for continuing membership of a Family Council member who no longer has a family member/friend who is a resident in the Home. It is important for your Council to have a Terms of Reference which defines its structure, operating procedure, and membership. The licensee/administrator does not have the authority to interfere with decisions relating to membership.

What can you expect from the inspection process for Long-Term Care Homes?

The Ministry's inspection process is aligned with the requirements of the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Regulations.

  • The inspection process uses standardized and clinically validated methodology (QIS), creating a structured and consistent approach. The Quality Indicator Survey (QIS) is a process developed by the University of Colorado that allows for an evidence-based inspection, less interpretive results, and resident care outcomes to guide the inspection requirements.
  • The inspection process is resident-outcome and risk-focused. The compliance inspectors will begin with information gathering through interviews with the residents – to hear their views of the quality of life and care in the home, and to determine if there is any risk to the residents.
  • Important information is gathered through interviews with families, staff, Residents’ Council, and Family Council representatives.
  • The inspectors also conduct mandatory audits, reviewing clinical records and policies, and making observations during the time in the Home. They will be using new technology to organize and summarize data and findings.
  • This approach allows for a shorter inspection process if the Home shows positive resident outcomes and target inspection resources on Homes with the largest number of quality concerns.
  • Inspections are unannounced and annual inspections will be conducted on a randomized basis.

Does the Act affect funding for Homes?

No. Funding is a separate issue; the Act does not deal with funding for homes.

Where can I read the Act and Regulations?

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is asking all Long-Term Care Home licensees to make a copy of the Act and Regulations available in the Home and to provide a copy to both the Residents’ and Family Councils.

Read the Long-Term Care Homes Act on the Government of Ontario website.

Read the Ontario Regulations made under the Long-Term Care Homes Act on the Government of Ontario website.