Tips for Running an Effective Family Council
- Meet With the Administrator
When you and other family members or friends decide to start a Family
Council, ask for a meeting with the Administrator to discuss the date(s),
a mutually agreed upon time, the place where you can post notices, the
designated staff liaison and the process for submitting and responding
to concerns of the Family Council. You don’t need the cooperation of
the Administrator, but it helps if you want to reach out to other family
members and new ones, and if you really want to see changes rather than
resistance. In addition, it’s better to start out on a cooperative basis,
as things tend to heat up soon enough. If the Administrator won’t discuss
it, send a letter and start the Family Council without his/her cooperation.
They are prohibited from interfering with the organization of Family
- Involve Facility Staff
Too often facility staff feels threatened by Family Councils. They see
them as "gripe" sessions that separate family members from the staff.
While family councils, by necessity, have to allow for family members
to gripe and voice their concerns, this should be done during the private
council meeting. While at least some part of every meeting should allow
for the family council to meet in private, staff should be invited to
specific meetings at specific times to discuss specific concerns. For
example, if one of the council’s concerns involves dietary issues, invite
the dietician to talk to the council, answer questions and address these
concerns. It’s always better to have the staff on your side, if possible,
since they are the ones who provide the direct care.
- Put It in Writing!
Someone should take notes during the meeting and be responsible for relaying
the specific concerns of the family council in writing to the administrator
or the staff liaison. The issues and/or concerns should be agreed upon
at the end of the meeting, and the format and tone of conveying the message
should be agreed upon. If you don’t put it in writing, don’t expect a
timely response. Be concise and direct. Be specific and give examples
of the problem, without naming residents’ names.
- Pick Your Battles!
Family Councils usually form because of a serious problem(s) at a facility.
Thus, the family members and friends who initially get involved are usually
pretty upset by the time of the first meeting. However, it would be a
good tactic to lay out all of the issues and prioritize. Pick one or
two less serious issues first, and see how the administrator responds.
Or pick the one issue that has the most direct effect on the residents.
Then you’ll know what you’re up against, and you’ll have an idea how
hard or easy getting changes will be. It’s also unrealistic to expect
all of your concerns to be dealt with at once. At the end of each meeting,
one or two concerns should be submitted in writing, with suggestions,
if appropriate, as to how the concerns could be addressed.
- Do Your Homework!
Find out the laws and regulations regarding the particular issue or issues
the family council selects. If you don’t know your rights or the residents’
rights, you won’t know if the response is appropriate or not (Call CANHR
for a copy of current state and federal regulations regarding the issue
- Prepare an Agenda
Although some time needs to be set aside for free discussion of concerns,
the meetings should have some structure. You don’t need Robert’s Rules,
but you should have a plan for each meeting. For example, there should
be time for introductions of all attendees, follow–up from the last meeting,
guest speakers, if any, and setting the time and dates of the next meetings
at a convenient time for as many as possible.
- Don’t Be Too Formal!
With the exception of making sure you put all correspondence from the
Family Council in writing, the meetings should not be too formal. They
should be a place where family members, representatives of residents
and the residents can feel free to talk about what they need to talk
about; where they can give and get emotional support and important information;
and where they feel welcome. Have some refreshments. Nothing increases
attendance like the smell of fresh–baked chocolate chip cookies! Some
facilities will provide cookies, coffee and soft drinks, but don’t count
on it. Bring your own or take turns bringing refreshments.
- Involve the Residents
Invite any residents who can or want to attend. Sometimes, family members
will bring the residents to the meetings. That way they can combine their
visits with the meeting. Most residents probably won’t want to attend,
but make them welcome. Their voices are the ones that seldom get heard.
- Reach Out!
One of the first orders of business for a Family Council should be organizing
an outreach program at the facility to make sure all the current family
members and the new ones know about the meetings. If the administration
is cooperative, your job will be easy. That is not always the case, however,
and you’ll need to be innovative in meeting family members. Have special,
short get–togethers on a weekend. Bake some cakes and have a "coffee."
If you can’t get new family members involved, the Family Council won’t
- Try Not to Control
A lot of family councils fail because the person who organized it, put
in all the time and energy and took control, doesn’t want to give up
control. This is a difficult dilemma and requires a careful balance of
addressing members’ real fear of retaliation and empowering them at the
same time. They only way you can do this is by letting them talk, educating
them and showing them, through results, that Family Councils can be effective
tools for improving care. Change in leadership can be healthy, as long
as the leader is in sync with the Family Council’s and residents’ concerns.