Improving staff capacity to form and facilitate relationships for people with severe intellectual disability: ‘it’s a slow process’

Caregivers Health practitioners Residential care Intellectual disability People with disabilities Australia


The social relationships model was previously developed to enhance positive relationships between direct support staff and people with intellectual disability. 

Aims and Method 

The study aim was to evaluate whether an intervention based on the relationship model would lead to change in the frequency of social interaction, and the nature of the relationship between direct support staff and people with severe intellectual disability. 

The educational intervention was developed and delivered over 4-6 hours. It covered each of the model’s four relationship processes: recognising individuality, sharing the moment, connecting, and sharing the message. 

Participants were 5 service users from 3 day services, and 6 from 3 group homes, with severe-profound intellectual disability (average ages 40 and 50 years, respectively); and 18 staff from each setting. Social interaction and relationship processes between staff and service users were measured through observations using the PEARSmts, with intervention effects tested using a Multiple Baseline Design. Descriptive field notes and staff interviews provided complementary qualitative data and a survey tool (SCIBI) and the staff interviews evaluated attitudinal changes. 


There were positive changes to the frequency of social interaction and the nature of the relationship between direct support staff and people with severe intellectual disability. Overall relationship processes, staff contact and service user engagement were infrequent and variable. 

This report is funded with assistance from a funding grant offered under the National Disability Research and Development Agenda, jointly implemented by disability representatives from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. 


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