There for when things get tough

Alison Cooper, Shared Lives carer, blogs about why she supports people with mental ill health through Shared Lives. This blog was originally her speech to MPs and leaders in the health and social care sector at our parliamentary reception last week, kindly hosted by the Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP, with speeches from our Ambassadors Michael and Dipan, Liz Kendall MP, ADASS President Margaret Willcox and Cllr Richard Kemp. Alison writes:

My life has been incredibly rewarding since becoming a Shared Lives carer, four years ago. For over 30 years I worked with adults with learning disabilities and people with mental health conditions. I have been able to see lives changed and people move into more independent ways of living.

alison and jonathan

We have always had an open house; I started sharing my home by supporting young foreign exchange students, before finding out about Somerset Shared Lives Scheme. I heard so much positive feedback about how vulnerable adults have the opportunity to live with and be part of families and be active within their communities. It seemed an ideal way to combine my skills and my home to potentially change someone’s life!

To become a Shared Lives carer I had to go through a robust process of application and induction. They took references, did security checks, checked my home. Somerset Shared Lives, my local scheme supported me at all stages and I built a professional relationship with my worker. Shared Lives carers work very closely with the Scheme and Shared Lives Plus who offer guidance and training where I needed it.

The first person who stayed with us needed lots of support. She would self-harm, attempt suicide and needed a considerable amount of emotional support due to an attachment disorder. Most of her life she had experienced rejection and instability. We were able to offer her a stable and loving home. As part of the matching process we were introduced to each other over a series of meetings, before she moved in.

Now I’m not going to tell you a story of how wonderful it all was and that everything was rosy, because it was one of the hardest times in my life. Not only for me, but for my family. It was challenging and exhausting, but with the support of the scheme and other professionals we gave her a time of stability, where she quickly became an important part of our family and community. She stayed with us for six months, before she moved on to a new home and since this we have stayed in contact with her and occasionally meet up for coffee.

So for someone with a mental health condition and attachment disorder I would say that’s not bad going is it?

Today (at the parliamentary reception), I am accompanied by Jonathon, who has been living with us for over two years. He has built really positive relationships with our family and now has an active week with his voluntary work and memberships to clubs and organisations. Johnathon’s main goal was to have some independence back in his life, so very shortly Jonathon will be moving into an annexe within our home so that he can have a more independence. Jonathon is a valued member of our family and community, making positive changes to his life and others.

The reason I am here today is to share with you the passion I feel for the work that I do and that so much can be achieved. Shared Lives is about supporting people to become a part of families and communities and with this comes, independence, self-worth and respect.

So! When you’re walking down the street next time and you see the unkempt person walking around that looks slightly odd, smelly and isolated from the world, take a moment to think that could be you, a family member a friend and all just because there was no one there for you when things get tough and you cannot cope with your world and others around you. That’s what Shared Lives are they are there for when things get tough.

We need to raise awareness of the benefits that Shared Lives creates and the positive work that is undertaken by many Shared Lives carers across the country. The work we do is life changing and rewarding for ourselves and for the people who come to live in our homes; their families too.

At a time when Local Authorities are struggling to provide services for vulnerable adults, due to rising costs, why is no one looking at Shared Lives, singing its praises, shouting about it? It’s quality, affordable care for vulnerable people. Councils and social workers, discharge nurses and commissioners need to use more of Shared Lives.

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