Person-centered planning and practices

Person-centered planning and practices focus on and center around the interests and needs of the person being served. They also emphasize the person’s strengths and dreams rather than weaknesses or deficits.

Person-centered planning is a group and/or team-based process using any of a variety of methods that are based in identifying a person’s strengths and interests. This collaborative, strengths-based process results in the identification of goals for establishing positive relationships, building community participation, and facilitating self-determination of individuals with a variety of abilities. In some methods, visual graphics are used during meetings with pictures or images used to communicate important people, activities, places, and things in a person’s life. When these images are used, information can be shared without the need for complicated verbal interactions. The person-centered process results in an action plan that is used to implement changes in a person’s life that will improve quality of life. Person-centered planning is not a one-time event or a form of documentation to complete. Instead, it is an ongoing team meeting process that helps create a vision for working to make a person’s dreams a reality.

Person-centered practices assist people in creating a positive and meaningful life and build on people’s unique interests and strengths.  They refer to strategies and tools that are used in many different situations and settings to support people across the lifespan from the very young to the end of life.  These strategies apply to everyone, including people receiving support, staff, organizations, and systems.  A variety of organizations and settings use person-centered practices to improve the supports that are provided to people. Disability-related services, nursing homes, behavioral health organizations, family homes, and other human service programs are just a few examples of settings where person-centered strategies are used to improve quality of life.

Person-centered practices are contrasted with agency-centered or system-centered ways of thinking and acting in which people have only systems options or agency-based roles and practices that affect their life choices and experiences.  The goal of systems change in these types of settings is to change the values and actions of staff and caregivers by moving away from the view that one must fix something that is wrong with a person to building on each person’s unique strengths and creating opportunities for them to share these strengths in a meaningful way with other people in their neighborhoods and communities. Traditional planning methods have often focused on placing individuals into already existing services and supports. In person-centered practices, there is an emphasis on determining what is needed and then tailoring supports and services to meet each person’s preferences, desires, and meaningful future.


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Models and types of person-centered planning

There are many types of person-centered planning methods that can be used to guide the process. While these strategies vary, all person-centered planning processes tend to focus on common outcomes. These outcomes include:

  • Increasing the person’s participation in the community,
  • Identifying new and enhancing existing meaningful relationships,
  • Expanding the opportunity for an individual to express and make choices,
  • Creating a dignified life based on mutual respect, and
  • Developing team skills and areas of expertise in order to improve the person’s quality of life.

Each method of person-centered planning has its own strengths that will work better for some people than for others. Knowing how the different methods work can help you find the best fit for the person you are supporting.

Policies promoting person-centered practices

The evolution of the human services system in the last 40 years has evolved from a primarily institutional and service-focused design toward a focus on person-centered values. This evolution has been influenced by different types of planning processes, court cases, public policy and other forces. The transformation of the current service system for supporting children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families will continue to be influenced by person-centered principles and practices as federal and state policy continues to shift funding and resources from institutional models of care to community-based services and supports. Practitioners supporting children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities will continue to play a vital role in person-centered planning processes as an important tool for identifying, planning and executing needed services and supports.

Implementing person-centered practices for organizational and systems change

Person-centered organizational changes address how supports are planned. Changes can be used to fix policies, add training, and build community supports. Services for people with disabilities, nursing homes, mental health, family homes, and other settings can make changes that improve quality of life for people.

Organizations interested in person-centered practices should form a team to take a lead role in the systems change process. Teams should represent the experience and wisdom of multiple viewpoints of the people who will be part of the change process. Together, the team shares responsibility for leadership and decision-making. Examples of team members include:

  • People receiving support,
  • Family members and/or guardians,
  • Staff representing the different areas of the organization.
  • Directors/executives, leaders,
  • Management,
  • Front line supervisors,
  • Direct support staff,
  • Advocates, and
  • Community members.

Every team member is important. The first step for a team is to assesses the strengths of the organization. This information is used to develop an action plan for moving forward. Teams use a self-assessment process to clearly articulate a person-centered vision and connect it to organizational mission and vision statements. Sometimes changes are made to the original organizational mission to better align values. Administrative leadership and support on the team is a key element that predicts success. Since everyone is involved in person-centered practices, the team works hard to involve everyone in assessment and action planning. The assessment process leads the team to implement the following types of strategies:

  • Modifying or adding policies and procedures,
  • Integrating person-centered strategies into onboarding and ongoing training systems,
  • Changing hiring processes,
  • Adding coaching and mentoring systems to support staff learning new skills, and
  • Including data-based decision making to assess how well person-centered practices are implemented.