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Microboards and Microboard Association Design, Development and Implementation


David and Faye Wetherow

Revised August, 2004


Introduction to Microboards

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in the prospect of establishing ‘Microboards’ for developing personal support services for individuals with disabilities, for obtaining and managing direct, individualized funding, and for engaging members of the larger community in purposeful personal support networks.

We created the very first Microboards in the Canadian province of Manitoba in 1984.  As we shared the story in conferences and personal correspondence, a handful of colleagues picked up the idea and began to apply the concept in other jurisdictions. 

We coined he term ‘Microboard’ in an attempt to describe what we were developing – the name didn’t have a specific legal meaning.  If the intent is clear, it may not matter whether we call it a Microboard or use some other name – the name should satisfy whatever designation meets the question to government of ‘what-does-it-have-to-look-like?’.  However, it is critical to retain the qualities that define the identity and purpose of a true Microboard:

  1. An unencumbered focus on the identity, needs and express wishes of the person who is supported;
  2. Development and maintenance of an active, diverse and fully engaged citizen-based circle of support;
  3. Retaining all possible elements of control, especially including the role of employer-of-record.

The first application outside of Manitoba was probably developed in Colorado, but the first large-scale application was developed by Vela Microboard Association (http://www.microboard.org) in British Columbia.  Vela stands as a good example of a type of ‘underlying structure’ for developing and sustaining dispersed person-centered solutions.

Microboard Design Objectives

When we created the very first Microboards in Manitoba in 1984, we had several major objectives in mind.  We wanted to:

1.    Establish a mechanism for direct individualized funding (which was not available in Manitoba at that time),

2.    Provide a mechanism for bringing effective control of support services into the hands of the person who was being supported and the people who were closest to him or her,

3.    Develop an understandable pattern for drawing together an intentional citizen-based personal support network,

4.    Develop a pattern that would define and maintain the identity and efforts of the support network (the Microboard members and allied others)

Historical Context

It may be helpful to consider this development in its historical context.  At the time we began this work, there were only three ways that government would finance community support services in Manitoba:

1.    By licensing and funding a limited number of residential or day program ‘spaces’ under the auspices of incorporated non-profit societies or proprietary agencies;

2.    By paying 'board and care' rates to the proprietors of commercial residential facilities;

3.    By paying the equivalent of ‘board and care’ rates to foster families for children and 'adult home providers' for adults.

The vast majority of non-profit and proprietary agencies were funded to provide congregate, or ‘group’ residential, daytime and other support services.  In all cases (except for foster care), government was funding an agency to operate a certain number of 'program spaces' or 'slots'.  This had several important implications for the people served:

1.    If an individual who needed supports did not happen to fit an open ‘slot’, s/he would be forced to wait until an agency developed and government funded a new slot or a different kind of slot.  Functionally, this showed up in the form of ‘waiting lists’; in human terms, it resulted in a pattern of family breakdown, social or health crises, etc.

2.    If a person was being served in an existing slot, and the type of service represented by that slot did not fit that person’s actual needs, there was very little opportunity to change the service configuration, since alternative slots were almost always full (and indeed had long waiting lists);

3.    Because there were such powerful disincentives to make changes, people who were able to make advances remained in mismatched service arrangements.  The express premise of many services, which was that they would be ‘transitional’ to other, less restrictive services, was inoperable because actual movement was limited or entirely absent.  On the other hand, people who began experiencing increasing challenges or difficulties were forced to remain in services that could no longer meet their needs

4.    Because of the congregate nature of most services, people were extensively disconnected from relationships and opportunities in the larger community.  With rare exceptions, the places they lived, worked and played, and the days of their lives, were entirely defined by the agencies that supported them.

Board and care was a particularly grim option – facilities tended to be large-scale, segregated, under-funded, and virtually un-monitored.  The people who lived in these settings felt themselves held hostage by the lack of alternative provider candidates.

While ‘adult foster care’ could (in some cases) create conditions that approximated typical family life and might offer a longed-for degree of intimacy, companionship and normalcy, the people who were supported often found themselves vulnerable to changes in the capacity or willingness of the individual provider to continue over time.  If an adult foster care provider became ill or incapacitated or simply decided that they needed a change in lifestyle, the person who was supported could suddenly find themselves without a home and without ‘standing’ in the community.

Ultimately, all of the non-profit or proprietary agencies kept control in the hands of the provider.  We saw virtually no instances of real power in the hands of the individual people who were being supported, their families or community allies

Strategic Design

For several years, we had worked with Manitoba government to accept two new operating strategies in service funding and organization:

1.    The first strategy was to get the government to accept the idea of individualized funding – basing service funding on a negotiated agreement related to a specific person’s support needs, and segregating the funds that were received on behalf of that person so that they could not be spent on behalf of another person;

2.    The second strategy was to separate the provider auspices that controlled the provision of housing from the auspices that controlled the provision of support services.

Once we were able to create this agreement around a particular individual, it became possible for that person to change their housing (for example) without losing their service support, and even more importantly, it made it possible for people to change service providers without losing their homes, their jobs, or the social spaces they occupied in the neighborhood and community.

The practical application of this work initially took the form of two separate but interconnected service developments:

1.    Prairie Housing Cooperative was an inclusive, scattered housing cooperative which purchased small ‘clusters’ of houses in neighborhoods throughout Winnipeg.  Most of the members of the housing cooperative were ordinary citizens who agreed to offer informal support and encouragement to cooperative members (their neighbours) who happened to have disabilities.  The housing cooperative was developed with the understanding that it would never provide formal (paid) personal support services ('residential services'); if a member needed paid personal assistance, s/he would obtain that assistance under other auspices. 

2.    L’Avenir Service Cooperative was a service cooperative that negotiated and managed services based on individualized funding.  It operated with the proviso that it would never own or control the homes or work settings that people occupied.  L'Avenir was set up as a 'service without walls' that could move with people across a wide range of community environments.

L'Avenir became the platform for Manitoba's first individualized budgets, in which government agreed to finance the specific supports that a named individual needed, rather than financing 'residential program' or 'day program' slots and then fitting people into those slots.  Occasionally, people who received individualized funding via L'Avenir shared their housing and support services, but the contracts were all developed on behalf of specific individuals, and in principle, at least, it was always possible for an individual to change residences and take his or her support financing with him, or change service providers without losing his place in the community.

With these structures in place, if someone's needs changed, it would now be possible to change the 'support equation' around that particular person.  If one’s life began to take root in a new community based on emerging connections with family, friends, church, work, civic involvement, etc., one could give notice to the housing cooperative (or other landlord), change locations, and take the services with one. 

If someone wanted to change their service provider, or if they ‘got fired’ by their service provider (a not infrequent experience for people who struggled with challenging behaviors), they could take their support contract, move it to another service provider, and if they wished, retain their housing.  

The Microboard Emerges

L'Avenir and Prairie Housing cooperatives paved the way for the creation of the first Microboards.  We had begun to 'de-construct' traditional residential and day program services and establish the principle and functionality of funding individual support arrangements.  However, in some respects, we were still working within a traditional 'agency' model.

Because the service cooperative served many people, it remained at risk of being drawn into the shape of a traditional agency. Even though individual funds were segregated (John’s money remained John’s money), the time and energy of management – a significant common resource – could always be sidetracked into 'hot' situations, leaving other arrangements to struggle from lack of attention. 

Also, because it served many people, challenging government on behalf of one individual invoked the threat of jeopardizing security for all of the other individuals supported by the agency. 

Finally, the board of directors (even though it was composed entirely of the people who were supported and their families) could potentially be drawn into making decisions that were favorable to one individual or one group of individuals at the expense of another.

The Microboard was intended to resolve these problems and to bring the structures for providing supports more into line with person-centered and family-centered principles.  The Microboard was designed to allow people to move:

1.  From agency funding to funding individual support services;

2.  From agency-type governance structures to supports directly governed by the individual person being supported and their friends and family members;

3.  From relatively inflexible service structures to supports that could adapt rapidly to changes in a person’s needs, interests, relationships and environments; and

4.  From lives defined by services to lives increasingly defined by companionship, connection and contribution in the broader community.

The structure of the first Microboards began with a simple question.  We asked our friends in government, "What is the smallest unit of human organization that would be eligible to receive 'agency'-level funding?"  The answer was 'a 3-person non-profit corporation which could be organized to support as little as one named individual’.  Hence, the 'Microboard'.

The first Microboard shared one ground rule with the service cooperative – it would refrain from owning or controlling the housing that the person occupied – but there was another important ground rule – it would serve only one person.

The Roles Played by Members of Individual Microboards

The very first Microboard was developed on behalf of a man who had spent several decades in a large institution, and who had been helped to return to the community by the combined action of L’Avenir and Prairie Housing cooperatives.  The first Microboard members were three people who were connected with a Lutheran church that had become our friend’s ‘home church’.  When prospective Microboard members asked us, "What do you us to do?” we described the functions of the Microboard (and the role of the individual members who formed the corporation) in the following way: 

a)    Listening deeply to John, in a spirit of respect and alliance;

b)    Being a friend (spending time with John, visiting his home, opening your home to him, etc.);

c)     Introducing him to other trusted people;

d)    Introducing him to trusted community circles and associations (church, clubs, etc.) to which you belong or to which you have personal connections;

e)    Helping him find ways to make contributions and offer his gifts to the larger community;

f)      Paying attention to 'quality' in John's life, using your own lives as a point of reference;

g)    Helping to recruit, screen, teach and direct his support workers;

h)    Helping with the nuts and bolts of managing resources – meeting payrolls, budgeting, scheduling, etc.;

i)      Representing John's interests and needs to decision-makers (planning, budgeting proposal-making);

j)      Being a good 'steward' of the resources that were made available to John;

k)    Serving as a point of accountability and reporting to the funders;

l)      Making sure that the last two roles didn’t overrun the first nine; never forgetting to celebrate accomplishments.

Typically, agency boards tend to see their job (and the state sees their job) as (f), (i) and (j) above: quality assurance, stewardship and fiscal and program accountability.  We envisioned an added opportunity for the members of a Microboard to offer thoughtful companionship and to be bridge builders to other trusted connections in the community.  We were a bit worried about the possibility of citizens being pulled 'out of shape' from companionship into formality, but the balance of roles and a practice of paying regular attention to the question of ‘how are we doing?’ relative to each of the roles helped to mitigate against this.

Getting Incorporated

In Manitoba we used a very simple standard set of non-profit Articles of Incorporation and then added some specific conditions.  The first condition was that the corporation would be limited to supporting a named person, John ___.  The second was a limit on owning real property.  The third condition was that upon dissolution, any equity or remaining funds would be given to another non-profit corporation with similar aims.  We have always advocated that the person being supported would have full membership on the Microboard, but we didn't include this in the Articles (in all probability, we could not have gotten a legal corporation if we had specified a particular person as a member in the Articles).

The Microboards were not set up as charitable entities under the Tax Act.  We didn't need charitable status in order to do business with government, and it is unlikely that we could have received charitable status, since the corporation was intended to support a specific individual.  Obtaining status as a registered non-profit was no problem, and in the cases where it was helpful to receive a charitable donation, we were able to collaborate with other legal charities for the purpose of receiving and disbursing the money.

Government-Mandated Structures

Given differences in jurisdictions, developers might be required to have a combination of additional entities at work – e.g. a specific State government might require the formation of a separate financial trust to receive and disburse money for John ___, or a trust that might be set up for a group of people.  However, great care must be taken to avoid developing or buying into structures that remove effective control the person or the Microboard, contain serious conflicts of interest, or that or that assume de facto agency status.

The key is to build a person-specific entity that makes it possible for government to provide direct individualized funding without building an agency, without building an institution, keeping governance and day-to-day control as close to the person being supported as possible, and staying clear of inherent conflicts of interest. 

Government will reflexively move in the direction of building agencies, because that is a known and familiar pattern.  We need to help government 'deconstruct' this institutional impulse by creating the elements that they are looking for without building so many components into the new structure that the structure ends up filled with conflicts. 

We have seen many unfortunate instances where governments insert separate ‘employers of record’, or ‘fiscal intermediary’ structures into the equation, effectively dismantling the appropriate authority and responsibility of the Microboards.  The response is to work out what it is that government is really trying to safeguard, and then to build (or build in) structures that accomplish those specific safeguards without undermining the intent or operations of the Microboards. 

Taking the ‘employer of record’ as an example, we may discover that government is trying to help Microboards by relieving them of challenging accounting, filing, recruiting, screening, training, employee benefits or human resource management concerns.  The appropriate response is to show how each of these challenges can be met by the Microboard purchasing services (or cooperatively organizing services) that competently meet those needs.

‘Economies of Scale’

In terms of administrative overheads, Microboards are not inherently less efficient than larger provider agencies.  In fact there is reason to believe that the opposite is true.  First, there is a great advantage in mobilizing and engaging direct citizen involvement.  Second, there are several strategies that offer the potential to find 'economies of scale' in ways other than by building provider agencies.  These include:

  1. Creative use of generic services (e.g. automated payroll services),
  2. Membership in business associations offering group benefit packages (e.g. Chambers of Commerce insurance plans),
  3. Creative relationships with existing providers (e.g. contracting with a good local provider for assistance with staff recruitment, screening and training), and
  4. Cooperation among Microboards (e.g. sharing data processing, billing and accountability functions)

In terms of direct supports, Microboards and individualized service arrangements do not necessarily equate to higher costs, especially higher overall costs.  A creative, engaged, connected community, working with flexible dollars, might be able to work out some interesting exchanges by finding creative (and personalized) ways of balancing the contributions of community, family, persons with disabilities and formal services.

From our perspective, it is a good idea to work this out in practice (certainly taking advantage of the base of good practice and experience that is already out there), rather than attempting to develop a master plan and a master commitment that will work for everyone, everywhere, always, solve all of the potential problems, and meet all potential objections.  Our recommendation would be that if it is at all possible, find ways of establishing the first Microboards within existing legislation, regulation, and entitlements, rather than having to change legislation, etc. to get the first ones off the ground.

‘Beyond’ Microboards

The desirable combination of personal empowerment, citizen involvement, service flexibility and individualized direct funding can be done without Microboards, or with other forms of organization.  Six years after we established the first Microboards, a Manitoba project known as 'In the Company of Friends' was developed in response to the question, ‘what would we have to create to make it possible for you to deliver money directly to John ____, without having to have a formal corporation?’.  

In this project, the government of Manitoba began to provide funding directly to individuals who needed support, with the proviso that there would be an intact, functioning, intentional personal support network – but without the requirement that the circle be formally incorporated.  Manitoba used this mechanism to provide direct funding to a number of people returning to the community from years in institutions.

What is the bottom line?  Keep it as simple as possible.  Keep it small.  Work hard to keep essential roles such as the designation of ‘employer-of-record’ as close to the focus person as possible.  Keep the personal planning function independent.  And make sure that the enterprise has access to strong, well-organized sources of ‘underlying’ support.

Organizing ‘Underlying’ Supports

Before developing more than a handful of individual Microboards, it will be helpful to think about creating an organization (like a 'Microboard Association') that would take on the role of:

  1. Learning about Microboard design and development;
  2. Negotiating with the State about making Microboards eligible for reimbursement;
  3. Providing solid information to families and communities about the Microboard model;
  4. Helping families and individuals actually form Microboards (which always involves creating a solid plan with the person at the center); and
  5. Providing training, development support and sustaining support for Microboards.

Because Microboards and unincorporated circles are small and citizen-based, they need reliable access to ‘underlying supports’ – organized sources for development, training, technical support and practical assistance in areas such as initial formation, planning, managing resources, recruiting, screening and training staff, handling difficult human resource situations, budgeting, evaluation, accountability, representing the person's needs to government, etc. 

We see it as essential that the state provide adequate funding for the purchase of these organized underlying supports, and highly desirable that this provision be established as a part of each individual Microboard contract.  It is important to obtain adequate start-up financing for development and initial operation of an underlying support system.  It concerns us when governments fail to see the importance of adequately financing underlying supports and the value of anchoring that support in the community rather than in government or the traditional service system.

Microboard associations, independent consulting groups and individualized funding projects offer different ways of providing organized supports to Microboards, circles, individuals and families who receive direct funding.  Even carefully selected traditional agencies might provide some of the technical assistance and other supports that individual Microboards may need, on a fee-for service basis.

In British Columbia, Vela Microboard Association offers an important long-standing example of how organized supports can be provided to a diverse and geographically dispersed collection of individual Microboards without controlling them.  It's a serious undertaking and it's not easy work, but it's possible.  Over the past 10 years, Vela has supported the development of over 170 Microboards.  That means that 170 people with disabilities are funded by the State and are supported by, and engaged with over 800 citizen supporters.  Some live at home with their families, some live in their own homes, and some have returned to the community from institutions.

The Tennessee Microboard Association is a more recent development, and has been successful in making Microboards eligible for Medicaid, residential, vocational, family support and health support funding in a U.S. context.  The Tennessee association has been underway for a little over a year at the time of this writing. A number of Microboards have been incorporated, several are funded, and there has been a strong investment in training in Microboard development, organization and operation, resource management and accountability, PATH planning and community-building, staff management, etc.                                                                                 

The Relationship between Individual Microboards and the Microboard Association

The following graphic depicts the relationship between the individual Microboards (the tiny incorporated circles that come together on behalf of one individual and their family) and the Microboard Association (a larger entity that helps individual Microboards come into being and provides education, research and support to the Microboards). 

As depicted in the graphic, each individual Microboard has a direct connection with the State (the body that funds services and supports).  There are four ‘elements' that make up this connection:

  1. The State recognizes the Microboard as an approved provider of services, eligible to receive and manage funding in the same manner as any other provider entity.
  1. In collaboration with the person who is at the center, Microboard members create a plan for supporting the person who is at the center.  They develop a budget for implementing that plan (the budget might include money for staffing, training, administration, equipment, housing, and other things), and send the plan and budget to the State.  Negotiating that budget with the State is the second ‘connection'.
  1. The State reviews the person's plan, hopefully approves it (possibly asking for more information or revisions), and agrees to finance the plan.  The State develops a service contract with the Microboard and begins sending money to the Microboard.  Creating that agreement and sending funds to the Microboard is the third ‘connection'.
  1. The Microboard sends regular information to the State, including service, outcome and financial data.  This process of accountability is the fourth ‘connection'.

The Microboard Association is not part of the ‘loop' between the individual Microboard and the State, and there is no intermediate ‘agency' standing between the Microboard and the State.  The Microboard has the same standing as a provider agency – it is a provider agency, for one person.

Using the financing it obtains from the State, the Microboard purchases goods (housing, equipment, materials) and services (transportation, training, insurance, technical consultation and other supports), and directly employs people to provide direct assistance to the person and/or the family.  The Microboard purchases these things directly – there is no ‘agency' between the Microboard and the goods and services that it purchases. 

The Microboard is the direct employer of people who serve in staff roles.  It is the ‘employer of record', fully responsible for recruiting, hiring, directing, disciplining, terminating, and paying staff.  There is no ‘agency' between the Microboard and the people it employs.

In summary,

  1. From a service perspective, the Microboard is an independent, incorporated, non-profit entity established to negotiate, receive funds, organize and manage supports around one person and/or the person's family.
  2. In addition, the members of a Microboard serve as part of a personal support circle (the expanded circle will include people who do not happen to serve on the Microboard).
  3. The State funds the Microboard directly. 
  4. The Microboard is the employer of record, and it independently purchases the other goods and services that it might need, just like the members of an ordinary household would purchase the goods and services they need. 
  5. The Microboard has complete freedom as to where and from whom they purchase goods and services.  For example, if they want to purchase payroll services rather than spending their time doing the payroll, they can purchase that service from a bank, a commercial payroll service, a private bookkeeper, or they may join with other Microboards to form a cooperative payroll service.  If they don't like the service they're getting, they can change the source at will, just as an ordinary family would change lawyers or change banks if they wanted to do that.

There are four connections between each individual Microboard and the Microboard Association:

1.      The Microboard Association provides initial help and support to the individual Microboard:

a.  Initial information, education and consultation about becoming a Microboard

b.  Initial training in planning, community-building, and Microboard operation

c.  Assistance in organizing, becoming incorporated, and becoming approved as a provider

d.  Assistance with individual planning and creating the plans and budgets that will be sent up to the State

2.      The Association offers ongoing training, consultation, advice and technical assistance.

3.      Once the individual Microboard is up and running and receiving operating funds from the State, it may purchase ongoing support services from the Microboard Association (we suggest a general purchase-of-service agreement in the neighbourhood of 2% of the operating budget per month)

4.      Individual Microboards voluntarily support the Microboard Association in its continuing work of:

a.  Educating families, communities and the State about the Microboard model

b.  Helping new Microboards to come into being

c.  Sharing their learning (in Tennessee, they think about the Microboard Association as a `learning community')

d.  Offering community service (in Tennessee, members of the Microboard Association are helping schools, community groups, churches and families who don't happen to be directly connected with the Microboard project).

The Microboard Association is doing a lot of work.  This work takes time, energy, money, and staffing, as well as the dedication of volunteers and community members.  Because individual Microboards come ‘on line’ slowly, the 2% purchase-of-service agreement with operating Microboards will not be sufficient to support the Microboard Association through its start-up phase.  A lot of work needs to be done before the first Microboards get up and running and the development process is carefully paced because one doesn’t want to get more Microboards ‘on the ground' than we can actually support at any given time.  So the Microboard Association needs some start-up funding (about three years' worth).

In Tennessee, the Microboard Association got its initial start-up grant from the State’s Developmental Disabilities Council.  This was a good source because of the Council's historical role in researching and testing new ideas, its State-wide presence and influence, and its commitment to the empowered role of family members and individuals with disabilities.  Community foundations and philanthropic organizations can also be helpful in the start-up phase.  However, it is important for the new Microboard Association to be developed with a business plan that is directed towards getting off of ‘soft' (i.e. philanthropic, grant or government) money within a reasonable period of time; this is the reason for the proposed 2% purchase-of-service arrangement.

It is important to remember that the relationship between individual Microboards and the Microboard Association is voluntary.  The individual Microboard is not required to purchase ongoing support services from the Microboard Association (we're using the same principle as we were when we spoke about payroll options, above).  An existing Microboard might decide to ‘go it alone' or to purchase ongoing support services somewhere else.   A group of Microboards might decide to start their own support association based on geographic location, cultural affiliation or some other consideration.  We would hope that individual Microboards would remain affiliated with the Association, but the principle of independence applies even here.

The association should price its service contracts in so that they will always have money to support existing Microboards, develop new Microboards and possibly spawn sister associations.  Ultimately, the Microboard associations (and other underlying supports) should be independent of grants and fund-raising – otherwise, they are forever dependent on the vagaries of State politics.  The premise is that underlying support services are a legitimate cost of delivering the direct services; traditional agencies incorporate what we would call underlying services in their administrative, training, and management budgets, so all we're doing is 'making the implicit explicit'.


Addendum: Some Nuts and Bolts

‘Scope of Work’ 

The Microboard may start out handling just one part of the total range of resources that are available to a person, with other elements to be added at a later date (if at all). 

Thus, a specific Microboard might initially take on management of the residential or home support resources while the person continues to receive 'daytime' supports from a traditional provider agency.  In the long run, there will be benefits to having as many resources as possible in the hands of the person / family / circle / Microboard, but in the short run it would be foolish for a Microboard to take on more support responsibility than it can manage, or take on a role that is seriously under funded.

In the long run (small-scale systems change time), it is valuable to get Microboards eligible to receive and manage funds from a variety of sources, program auspices, and purposes (i.e., residential, home care, health, HCFA, Medicaid waiver, educational, vocational, recreational, respite, etc.).

In the very long run (large-scale systems change time), the movement towards individualized funding (which includes independent planning and representation) will hopefully drive the system in the direction of more appropriate rate-setting practices and funding levels.  Ultimately, governments will hopefully recognize that there is great value in engaging the community, that quality is significantly enhanced, that people are responsible stewards, and that the 'grief constant' may be substantially reduced.

Cash Flow

One challenge that a new Microboard might face is how to pay for goods, services and payroll expenses before it receives its first reimbursement from the funders.  One way to approach this would be to develop a realistic cash flow projection and take it to a conventional lender (a regular bank or credit union).  It should be feasible to establish a working line of credit based on an existing contract with government, and it's easy to calculate the initial and ongoing carrying costs associated with carrying a revolving debit balance.  The carrying cost should be added to the budget that is ultimately presented to the State as a monthly expense.

Historically, traditional agencies have solved some of their cash flow problems by obtaining start-up grants, absorbing start-up costs by ‘borrowing’ from existing operations, gradually accumulating operating surpluses that can eventually wipe out a revolving debt, or using fund-raising to establish positive cash balances. 

We advise against Microboards getting into fund-raising (either individually or collectively), especially with the intent of dealing with operating cash flow problems or to cover operating deficits.  Their energy ought to be directed towards the specific roles of the Microboard (described above), and towards continuous, honest and effective negotiations with the State.  There is actually an advantage to Microboards organizing without charitable status – it helps avoid the temptation to solve day-to-day problems by fund-raising.

Microboards Involving Families or Couples

A correspondent from Michigan wrote:

I have 3 children with a developmental disability called Angelman Syndrome. I am curious if you have ever heard of someone setting up a Microboard for their children? I am wondering if the same process can be used in setting up a board for 3 children instead of just one.

We responded:

Since we developed the very first Microboards in Manitoba in the 1980s, we have watched and supported Microboard development in a variety of settings, and have always been interested in seeing how the basic model – the basic principles – can be adapted to specific circumstances. The question of individual Microboards supporting families or couples falls is one of those ‘adaptation’ questions.

If the person being supported is a single adult, the Microboard would be formed to receive and manage resources for that specific person and limited to supporting that specific person (this is to avoid the possibility of the Microboard evolving over time into a traditional 'provider agency' serving numerous people.

If the people being supported are an adult couple who are in a marital or quasi-marital relationship, the Microboard could be formed to help receive and manage resources for that couple, with contingency plans to deal with the possibility that the couple might separate at some future time – the people who form the Microboard might make plans to form a second Microboard in the event of a separation.

If the people being supported are two or more adults who are not in a marital or quasi-marital relationship, and even if they have shared or co-owned a household for some time, we strongly recommend that individual Microboards be formed to help each person receive and manage resources, with solid contingency plans on the housing side to deal with the possibility that the people might go separate ways.  'Small corporations' that manage services for unrelated people should be named just that - small corporations or small agencies - and should not be identified as Microboards.

If the people being supported are a family-with-young-child(ren), we would think in terms of forming the Microboard to help receive and manage resources for that family. The group forming the board would want to make contingency plans that could come into play as the individual children reach maturity and possibly leave home and establish their own households (one would probably move in the direction of the creation of additional individual Microboards).

If there were three young children (siblings) who did not have a parent, and the children were living together, we could see forming a Microboard to support those three children, with contingency plans for forming additional Microboards in the event that individual children move on from the original household. This might be a particularly useful strategy for supporting individual children or sibling groups who live in the 'foster care' system (Michigan has done some ground-breaking work in the area of 'permanency planning', and this could be an interesting addition to that work).

'Can' it be done? Absolutely. 'Has' it been done? Probably most of the adaptations we've suggested have been done somewhere. There's no reason that we can see that any of them can't be done in any jurisdiction.

The key is to do deep thinking about each specific situation, to think in terms of why the principles were developed in the first place and how these principles might be adaptively applied in this specific situation, around this specific person (or couple, or family, or children).

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