Social work Chief talks about Shared Lives

Thanks to the 90 odd members who joined us in a cold and occasionally snowy Newcastle for a very successful conference and the AGM. Our annual report is now on the website.

Richard Jones, President of ADASS, was our keynote speaker and met a group of attendees for a discussion session, as well as mingling at lunchtime. What Richard said about Shared Lives (condensed a little!) was very interesting: “Too often we fit people into services, when what they want are relationships. We need to see and treat people as citizens, not clients, customers or service users. Shared Lives levers in so many community resources. It is a win-win service for people, families and the public purse. It often offers something others can’t: you can’t specify love in a contract.”

It’s a brave professional who talks about love and social care in the same sentence, particularly in these days of cuts to “non-essential” services and widespread anxiety about abuse.

I started off my career working as a care assistant in a residential home, working mainly with young men who were labelled as having “challenging behaviour”. It wasn’t a bad place in many ways, but if I think back on what I remember being taught, it all seemed to be about risk and risk assessments, “boundaries”, “professionalism” and the ever-present worries about what was “appropriate”. We didn’t talk very much about love, as far as I remember.

Shared Lives is a professional service. It has boundaries and a regulatory regime. It is alert to the possibilities of abuse and all the risks from which no service is immune. But with those buzzwords from my early career still firmly lodged in my head, it was a culture shock to start working with Shared Lives and thinking through what creating real relationships, rather than professional:client interactions means. What it can create and also how we keep it safe. Well done to Richard, who is attempting to provide leadership to the sector at what might be its worst ever economic moment, but still remembering what is really important.

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