The right support at the right time

This is a guest blog from my colleague Ali Hall who works in our development team building new support for young people in transition to adulthood:

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m three months into my new role with Shared Lives Plus, helping local services develop Shared Lives for young people in transition. It’s been an enriching experience – a bit like walking in to a room full of people who think the same way I do, and quietly realising “So this is where you all are”.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently published a report on mental health services for children and young people which says “The system as a whole is complex and fragmented. Mental health care is funded, commissioned and provided by many different organisations that do not always work together in a joined-up way. As a result, too many children and young people have a poor experience of care and some are unable to access timely and appropriate support.”

This fairly accurately sums up my experience of working with and within health, community and youth services. I’ve found that even where practitioners, including myself, can identify possible mental health concerns for young people, we may not know enough, we may not want to assume, or we may not have the time or the knowledge to adequately help. As CQC say this means we “may not be able to help children and young people access the right support at the right time.”

So, the big question is: who can? This is traditionally where family and close networks come in. But what about those people who haven’t got this kind of framework in place? This is exactly the kind of scenario where community cohesion, common sense and having a go-to person can provide a bridge to services.  It’s also where invested adults with an overview and understanding of that young person can help navigate the system and secure the support they need. Perhaps just as crucial, though, is applying these principles to prevention and recovery for people who have mental health issues of all kinds.

Shared Lives is one of these common-sense approaches.  It’s a model of care where adults and young people aged 16+ who need support and/or accommodation move in with or regularly visit an approved Shared Lives carer, once they have been matched for compatibility. Together, they share family and community life.

People make friends, get involved in clubs and activities, volunteer for causes and go on holidays. Feeling settled, valued and developing a new sense of belonging improve young people’s mental health – those intangible senses we have of being connected to others, of belonging and being valued; the things which help us all to live happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. And it’s not just about the everyday; even with all of this in place, young people – like everyone else –  can have mental health issues or experience a crisis where they will need to call on those closest to them, to help make decisions and seek support.  Just like normal family life, in fact.

I think this is the greatest benefit of Shared Lives and similar models. Having a Shared Lives carer in your life is different to having another kind of professional. It’s not about delivering a service for eight hours a day or providing good handover notes when your shift ends, which are of course valuable in their own way.  It’s about everyday family life and the practical support, natural empathy and bond that is created and sustained within such experiences. It doesn’t have a start time, an end time or an Out Of Office reply.  It’s simply there.  Even when that person isn’t around in that moment, that relationship exists. Many of us take for granted that kind of ever-present reassurance in our lives, but that’s not the case for many young people.

In the next phase of the CQC’s review, they will look at how to make it easier to improve access and quality to mental health services for children and young people. They’ll ask how they can ensure that all partners make their contribution and work together so that young people have timely access to high-quality mental health care. In our own unique way, the Shared Lives Sector will continue to do the same and I am excited to see what the next year brings.

CQC will make full recommendations when they publish their thematic review in March 2018. For more information on Shared Lives please visit http://www.sharedlivesplus.org.uk

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