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In Northern Ireland the Personal Social Services (Direct Payments) (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 is the legislative framework under which direct payments fall. Direct payments are seen as an alternative way of meeting assessed needs for personal social services. The aim is to increase independence by offering choice and control in respect of services required. The principles behind direct payments are to promote independence, to offer choice and to work in partnership. In Northern Ireland people between the ages of 18 - 64 with a physical or intellectual disability, assessed as willing and able to manage direct payments are eligible for them. In order to manage direct payments more effectively people in Northern Ireland are forming micro boards.

Micro boards originated out of the person centered planning and the direct funding philosophy. They are currently successfully functioning in British Columbia, which has legislation to support them. There is a non-profit society called Vela who developed a pilot project to facilitate three micro boards in Vancouver in 1989. In the last 11 years the project has expanded to include approximately 120 active micro boards. Vela helps support the setting up of micro boards and the dissemination of information and best practice to all micro board members.

A minimum of five people, including the person with the disability, must be on the micro board to satisfy legal requirements of the Provincial Society Act. Someone who is paid direct by the micro board cannot sit on the board, in other words service providers cannot sit on micro boards.

A Micro board is formed when a small group of committed family and friends join together with a person with intellectual disability, to create a non-profit society. Together this small group of people addresses the person's planning and support needs in an empowering and customised fashion. A micro board is created for the sole support of one individual.

Who can sit on a micro board?

Family, friends and acquaintances that are committed to knowing the person and to having a reciprocal relationship with them. Relationships are the most important component of a micro board. It is not necessary that micro board members have expertise in a specific area of disability or support services. The most important gifts that micro board members bring to their society are their relationship, knowledge of, and commitment to the person. The service skills can be learned or purchased from others.

What do micro board members do?

In British Columbia, to maintain legal society status, there are official positions that need to be filled on the board. The President decides the agenda, organises and chairs meetings. The vice-president carries out the duties of the president during his/her absence. The Secretary conducts the correspondence of the society, records the minutes and keeps all records and documents on behalf of the micro board. The Treasurer keeps the financial records of the micro board. If the micro board hires their own staff directly, they may wish to create a board position of staff liaison. This position would act as the communicator between the staff and the micro board.
Board members are a critical part of helping to plan with the person, create supports, and possibly deliver services. If the micro board decides to provide direct services they hire staff, and become employers.

The role of the micro board is not to shower the person with a steady stream of social opportunities. Rather, the micro board’s purpose is to ensure that the individual becomes a part of the fabric of their local community, thus safeguarding that person's future.

  • Micro board members must have a personal relationship with the person for whom the board is created.
  • All people are assumed to have the capacity for self-determination and this capacity will be acknowledged and respected and demonstrated in all the dealings of the micro board.
  • All decisions made by a micro board will demonstrate regard for the person's safety, comfort and dignity.
  • The more complex a person's needs are, the more important it is that the services are customised and individualized to support those needs.
  • All micro board members will conduct their board business in the spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration.
  • All services developed and/or contracted are based on the person's needs, not the availability of services.
  • Micro boards will only negotiate contracts with people and/or agencies able to demonstrate a concrete ability to provide services identified by the micro board. These services will be person centered and customised to meet the individual's needs.
  • The staff who work for or with the person through their micro board are not "attached" to the buildings in which the person lives, works, volunteers, or recreates. They work for the person, not a service provider, agency or business.
  • To get to know the person and establish a personal relationship (friendship) with the person.
  • To act as sponsors to the community ensuring the person participates in community activities with micro board members (i.e. family functions, social events etc) this is done in ways that are natural for each of the people involved, not as prescribed through written expectations.
  • To ensure the person has the opportunity to both receive and give from and to their community as well as with other individuals in their networks. Only once the above three functions have developed, should the following functions occur:
  • Complete a person centered planning process that will be used as part of the development of a proposal for supports.
  • Incorporate as a non-profit society.
  • Identify and request funds for services.
  • Identify and negotiate services.
  • Maintain and/or monitor services.
  • To honour legal requirements of the British Columbia Societies Act, a minimum of five board members must sit on the micro board.
  • To respect the intimacy of the micro board process, no more than seven or eight members are recommended on any board.