The shelter of each other

Our colleagues and members in Northern Ireland hosted an event for commissioners exploring how Shared Lives could be developed as a new form of short breaks, day support and home from hospital care for older people.

We are grateful to Fionnuala McAndrew of the Health and Social Care Board who helped convene and kick off the day and to Mary Hinds, of the Public Health Agency, who summed up beautifully, drawing on an Irish proverb I’ve not heard before: We live in the shelter of each other.

I’d be willing to bet that that rings true for you as much as it does for me. For years now, the ideal living situation through the eyes of long term care and support services has been independent living. It’s not a bad goal, particularly when contrasted with institutional alternatives. But that language doesn’t tend to figure in our own descriptions of what we dream of, unless or until our independence is at risk. When people describe happiness, for most (admittedly not all) of us, it involves having people  we can rely on. In other words, we dream of interdependence, not complete independence.

This can be an uncomfortable idea for long term support services which are wary of ‘creating dependence’. Few of us would want to be dependent on a service. But perhaps it is not so much that becoming dependent is ‘inappropriate’ to support relationships, but that the way we construct support relationships can be an uncomfortable fit with our naturally interdependent nature. People working in social care often find their roles put strict limitations on the definition of ‘care’ and are too rushed and impersonal to feel ‘social’. This incompatibility between the human nature of both people who give and those who receive long term care is at its most stark when the intimacy of personal care is carried out by a succession of strangers.

Shared Lives is not about dependency in the pejorative sense and for some people it is very much a stepping stone to getting their own place. Half of the people using Shared Lives live in their own place or with their family, and visit their chosen Shared Lives carer regularly for short breaks or day support rather than moving in. But in each case, Shared Lives is unique in adult support in its expectation that the people involved will expect to feel like friends, or even like family. One family carer whose relative has Shared Lives short breaks said, “It’s like extending your own family.” Shared Lives carers say that they and their families ‘get as much out of it as he/she does’. It is not taboo for long-term participants to say that they love the people they share their lives with; in fact, why else would anyone choose to do so?

In Shared Lives, people live in the shelter of each other.

If you are interested in developing Shared Lives or Homeshare in Northern Ireland, please contact Frank Johnston via info@sharedlivesplus.org.uk

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