I’m two months into the job as CEO of NAAPS, the UK network of very small and family-based social care solutions – and it felt high time for my first blog.
I’ve spent the last weeks meeting as many people as possible who are involved in Shared Lives, Homeshare and micro-enterprise. What has really struck me is that, whilst a lot of the sector is agonising about personalisation, the Big Society, choice and control, the people I’ve been meeting are making it happen for real. Many of them have been doing so since the Big Society was still in short trousers.
If I’ve had a problem with personalisation (a huge current driver in social care, aiming to bring choice and control to people who use services, partly through giving them control of money previously controlled by the state), it’s been that it’s tried to understand people entirely as independent individuals, as if they existed in a vacuum. I’m not a wholly independent individual and I don’t aspire to be one. Like most people, the most important aspects of my life are my family and other close relationships. My job is very important to me, so is my house and even, when it won’t start, my car. But I probably won’t get misty eyed looking back at any of those things that define my status and my individual identity – it will be the memories of friends, family and children. In other words, we’re all interdependent.
The people I’ve been meeting this summer are all about choice and control for older and disabled people. And they recognise that family life – in all of its many forms – and friendships are crucial to any of us feeling like we have real fulfilment in our lives.
I went to Devon to visit SWAPS Shared Lives service and heard a story that sums this up for me. SWAPS took a call from a lady with a learning disability who had lived with her mother all of her life. Many people with disabilities are now living into later life, often with parents who are not going to be able to care for them indefinitely. This lady wanted to explore living away from the family home for the first time. She only had one non-negotiable requirement: she had to be able to take her flock of geese with her. The scheme took that request in their stride, matching the lady with an approved Shared Lives carer who had enough land to accommodate the geese. I always imagine her setting off for her new home down the lanes of Devon, geese following behind. If there is another service other than Shared Lives that would have been able to meet that request, I can’t think of it. The choice and flexibility comes from the fact that Shared Lives is not a paid-by-the-hour service – it’s a way of helping people to set up new lives, relationships, communities. Not a Big Society perhaps, but certainly tiny societies.
I’m going to be aiming this blog at anyone with an interest in non-traditional forms of care and support and I’ll be blogging not just about Shared Lives, but also about the other forms of micro-enterprise and mutually-beneficial relationships which characterise our members. In particular, I’m hoping that NAAPS members read this blog and leave your comments, questions and suggestions. Perhaps you have a story that sums up the flexibility of our work which you think beats the geese. Or you are facing a piece of red tape which you think NAAPS should be campaigning to cut. Either way, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to respond.