We almost made the theme of this year’s Shared Lives week (13-19 October) ‘Quality’. It’s a well-used term in social care. Every reputable care provider has a Quality Assurance system. Some have ‘quality’ in their mission statement or strapline. The inspectors are called the Care Quality Commission. But it didn’t take us long to decide that ‘quality’ wasn’t quite the right word for us. Not because we don’t think quality is important. A high quality care service has sound systems in place, employs good people and manages them carefully. Those are all good things, which not every care provider manages to achieve all of the time.
But quality isn’t a word that fully describes what Shared Lives aims for. I was hearing the other day about a social worker who was a little worried when they saw a Shared Lives carers’ house, which a young woman who has a learning disability was about to move into. There were chickens, a rambling garden with bits and pieces of this and that lying about, even a beehive. Was this a safe and quality setting, I imagine the social worker thinking to themselves? What if the service user tripped over something or got stung by the bees? A ‘service setting’ wouldn’t look like this, especially if it was a high quality one. It would be more likely to have a neat, low maintenance garden tended regularly by a gardening contractor. The bees wouldn’t have survived the first risk assessment.
Three young women live with those Shared Lives carers now. They tend to the bees, love their pet rabbits, keep quail (and plan to sell the eggs as a micro-business), and grow vegetables. You will be able to see their story in the short film we are launching this week. A garden that busy with life may not always be spotless. There may be occasional trip hazards. I don’t know if anyone has been stung by a bee. It looks in other words like a garden in an ordinary house should look. Any commissioner or care manager would, I think, see it as a ‘high quality’ setting (even if they occasionally still worried about the bees) and it is. But much more importantly, it is a good place, in which people can live good lives. And it’s ‘Living Good Lives’ that we’ve chosen as the theme of this year’s Shared Lives week.