Natural Support for Families of Persons with Disabilities: A scoping review

As many of you are aware, along with VELA, and PosAbilities, and an incredible team of researchers from Queens University, PLAN is a community partner in a study looking at the balance between formal and natural supports for people with disabilities.

Last week, we had the opportunity to share our scoping review at the Canadian Sociological Association’s 2023 Congress called Reckonings and Re-imaginings.

Here is the description of our sessions:

Natural supports provide crucial emotional, informational, and instrumental support for all of us, and in particular, families of persons with disabilities (inclusive of the person with the disability, hereinafter referred to as “families”).

Providing and receiving natural supports (typically unpaid, and given out of a sense of love, loyalty and/or necessity) can often be seen as essential for realization of a good life – both for persons with disabilities and those around them.

Despite their critical role in our society, Canadian economic and social policies often fail to create environments in which natural supports are recognized and can flourish. As part of a larger project exploring the balance of natural and formal supports for Canadian families, we conducted a scoping review to assess how published literature has defined natural supports in the Canadian context.

Notably, we found that there is a dearth of evidence examining how natural supports for adults with disabilities and their families are defined and constituted in the Canadian context. Oftentimes, the definitions and examples identified did not fully capture the depth and complexity of natural support.

Moreover, what evidence does exist largely lacks an exploration of how natural supports are used in the lives of families who are further marginalized, including those who are Indigenous, live in rural communities, identify as LGBTQIA+, and those who are racialized. We highlight the need for future research that more comprehensively and accurately captures the essence of natural support experiences in Canada.

Additionally, we advocate for increased research and policy to support natural care to complement, not supplant, formal paid care. Finally, we recommend further critical examination of the voices presently represented in existing natural support literature and improved recognition and integration of Indigenous and other equity-deserving community knowledges and experiences of natural care.


We are looking forward to sharing more as this study progresses.  In the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to talk more about this work.