Take Miriam, for example. Though British-born she had spent most of her life in Nigeria living with her grandparents. In 2014, when Miriam was 25, her grandparents brought her back to London because they thought she would have better opportunities here. Things didn’t work out and when social services referred Miriam to us she was living an isolated life in temporary accommodation with her grandma. She was shy, found communication difficult and was having seizures at night.
After getting to know Miriam we introduced her to Bernadette, who worked for Choice Support as a support worker. Bernadette was interested in finding a different pattern of work and becoming a shared lives carer. Shared lives used to be called adult fostering. The idea is that people needing support are matched with a shared lives carer, and become connected with the carer’s family and social life in different ways.
Bernadette applied to become a shared lives carer, was assessed by an independent panel, and once registered was matched with Miriam. The pair hit it off straight away. They share the same cultural and religious background, and Miriam views Bernadette as a grandmother figure. Miriam moved into Bernadette’s home, initially for six months. Things worked so well that this was extended.
“Shared lives costs less than other forms of care; on average £26,000 a year cheaper for people with learning disabilities.” Shared Lives Plus, the UK network for shared lives services.
Miriam is taking several college courses to improve her English and numeracy, and is training to work in catering. She has re-established contact with her sisters living in London, and also has become a part of Bernadette’s family, attending many family gatherings and parties. Miriam and Bernadette go to church together, and plan to visit Nigeria, as they’ve discovered that they both have relatives living in the same region. Miriam’s confidence has grown. She now speaks freely, travels independently, and can happily spend time on her own. Currently the plan is for Miriam to move into her own flat after 18 months with Bernadette. When that happens Miriam will keep in touch with Bernadette, and might go for short stays with her from time to time.
This is Miriam and Joanne making friends at a picnic in Crystal Palace Park, which we organised for people supported by families in shared lives arrangements.
Because everyone is different each shared lives arrangement is unique. Here are some other examples of how it can work:
Brendan is studying for a degree in communications. He’s the oldest of four siblings and lives at home with his family. After a recent period of family difficulties Brendan, who has autism, was placed in a wholly unsuitable respite unit. He found it very distressing, and the disruption affected his studies.
Brendan’s care manager contacted us to find out whether Brendan and his family could access short shared lives respite breaks. We were able to match Brendan with shared lives carers close to where he lives and studies. He stayed for three weeks, then spent another week with other carers as the first carer had a holiday booked. After four weeks Brendan decided he wanted to go back to live with his family again. Throughout those four weeks Brendan carried on attending lectures and tutorials, and retained good contact with his GP.
Karina, the youngest of four sisters, has a life limiting genetic disorder. Now 20, she lived in foster care from the age of nine. Rose fostered Karina when she was younger, and when Karina turned 18 applied to continue supporting her as a shared lives carer.
Though the nature of Karina’s condition means she will continue to decline mentally and physically, she enjoys a rich life with Rose. She goes horse-riding twice a week, and likes the cinema, cooking, drama and ice skating. Regular hydrotherapy helps keep her mobile. She takes part in Rose’s family gatherings, while maintaining contact with her mum and sisters.
Planning for the future, Rose paid for a ground floor extension to her house, in anticipation of the time when Karina will not be able to manage the stairs. She also has a support carer, Lyn, who lives nearby. Lyn gives Rose a break when she needs it, and also works alongside her when Karina needs two carers.
Ahmed was at school with Karina. He lives at home with his mum, Rosena. She is devoted to him but finds day to day care demanding, on account of behavioural problems related to Ahmed's learning disability, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. When Rosena contacted us looking for respite care she had already tried a residential respite home, which neither she nor Ahmed liked. They also tried carers coming to their home, but there was no consistency and they were never clear who would be coming to see them, so this didn’t work either.
We matched Ahmed with Rani and Sam, who are from a similar cultural background. Rani is a trained support worker, but as her elderly mother now lives with her and Sam, she chose to be a shared lives carer so she can work at home and care for her mother at the same time.
After carrying out a risk assessment we decided that Rani and Sam's house needed a few adaptations before it was safe for Ahmed to visit them. These included an alarm on his door to let them know if he got up at night and a grab handlebar in the bathroom. Ahmed started with one overnight stay a month. He now stays for six nights a month.
In addition to a cultural connection, there are many aspects of the arrangement that contribute to its success. Ahmed is keen on transport and travelling, and as Sam works on the buses there is a shared interest. The family also have an allotment, which Ahmed likes to work on. Rani and Sam have a large extended family, and include Ahmed in family functions and parties. The arrangement also works for Rosena. She was unhappy with other attempts at respite, but gets on well with Rani and Sam and trusts them with caring for her son. With more time to herself she is building up new relationships and interests:
“I was desperate to try anything when a friend suggested shared lives. Carly and Jenny [shared lives managers] were lovely with me and excited because they felt ‘Bingo!’ we think we have a match! … one day Ahmed managed the transition and walked off into Rani’s house without looking back to say ‘Bye Mum’. It was the happiest day of my life.”
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