We have a new and very active email group for Shared Lives workers and an issue which has been the subject of some discussion recently is what happens when Shared Lives carers have visitors, or even other lodgers. Some schemes are nervous about the idea of adults (in some instances, grown-up children, but in other cases, strangers such as foreign students) coming to stay in the long term. Workers have been wondering about what happens if the Shared Lives carer has conflicting demands on their time and attention. It’s also currently unlawful to ask to police check adults living in a Shared Lives household who are not involved in care.
Other schemes can be anxious about risk if Shared Lives carers have small children of their own. In one well-publicised case a few years ago, inadequate information was passed to the carers about the person placed with them, resulting in an incident with their children.
I’m suspicious of blanket rules around risk. I think the beauty of Shared Lives is that each arrangement is unique and, like any ordinary family, households work things out as they go along. There is the back-up of regulation, local procedures, supervision, risk management and so on, but there is also enough space in which to weigh up benefits as well as risks. I also think that family life involves compromise: that’s one of the differences between being supported by a professional paid to be with you and being supported as part of a family.
The Parkers in West Wales are bringing up two young children whilst supporting the two older gentlemen who still live with them. “People ask us what happens if the guys need support and our kids need us. I don’t get that question: it’s just family life, that’s the point. Our kids look at the guys as being like their grandparents.” A favourite family activity is to go off in their camper van, towing the much-loved caravan which the two men take pride in treating as their domain whilst they are away. “They become a little bit more independent when we’re camping: the caravan is their space and they like to do everything for themselves in it. I think we make quite a sight when we arrive at the campsite with a camper van and a caravan but it suits everyone.” What does living in the family mean to the men using Shared Lives? “One of them was asked what it was like living with us the other day. I wasn’t expecting him to say anything, but he said ‘It’s like winning the lottery.’”
You can hear more from the Parkers who starred on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours this week. Go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00w190t/You_and_Yours_15_11_2010 and drag the cursor 28 minutes into the programme.