I lost count

Children’s services professionals dedicate themselves to helping children have good childhoods, but a recent Children’s Commissioner report estimates that “the majority of looked-after children – 74% – experienced some form of change during 2016-17: a placement move, a school move or change of worker. This is equivalent to 53,500 children”. Antony Corrigan, now an adult, said of his experience of moving around as a ‘looked after’ child: “You find it difficult to make a friendship group and you become alienated….I had at least 10 placements, including two children’s homes and in terms of social workers, I lost count, but I probably had about 10 in total. I just wish there was more consistency in the care I was given. It’s so easy to get lost in the system, no-one’s pushing you or encouraging you.”

Read full blog on the Social Care Institute for Excellence blog here.

Feeling settled

The Children’s Commissioner reports today that : “We estimate that the majority of looked-after children – 74% – experienced some form of change during 2016-17: a placement move, a school move or change of worker. This is equivalent to 53,500 children.” (via BBC article here) Antony Corrigan, now an adult, said of his experience of moving around as a ‘looked after’ child: “You find it difficult to make a friendship group and you become alienated….I had at least 10 placements, including two children’s homes and in terms of social workers, I lost count, but I probably had about 10 in total. I just wish there was more consistency in the care I was given. It’s so easy to get lost in the system, no-one’s pushing you or encouraging you.”

We are cautious about making comparisons between foster care and Shared Lives, despite some obvious similarities in how they are organised, because Shared Lives is not about treating adults like children, and fostering is associated in people’s minds with family breakdown, whereas Shared Lives is something that adults choose when they are looking for the mix of independence and support which most of us look for when we form a family or a household as an adult, and it is very often about two families working together.

But I was struck by the contrast between that high level of instability in children’s lives, at a time when stability is so vital, and the tendency of Shared Lives arrangements to last for years. I recently met a young woman who had had around 30 foster or children’s home placements as a child, but who was thankfully settled in her Shared Lives household as a young adult. I’ve never come across someone using Shared Lives who has had more than a handful of Shared Lives arrangements over a period of years, and I meet many who have lived in the same household for decades.

There is often an emergency, unplanned aspect to fostering, which will be one factor at play, but that cannot explain children who have been moved multiple times. I wonder how much the strong focus on matching – both parties choosing to live together – plays in the relative stability of Shared Lives, and whether there is a debate to be had about matching within fostering, where there is a greater focus on professionalisation and avoiding attachments that might not be maintained. I’d be interested to hear from people much more knowledgeable about children’s support than I am on that.

Ironically, stability in the adult support sector is not always seen as a good thing. Whilst it is recognised that someone whose support arrangements are constantly breaking down is not happy (and that those crises are very difficult and expensive to manage), being ‘too’ settled is also sometimes frowned upon by service managers. I hear regularly that people who are happily settled in a Shared Lives household are constantly being considered for moving on to ‘greater independence’, even if living by themselves is not what they are looking for at that stage of life (how many of us dream of always living alone?) Sometimes that unwanted move uproots them from the support networks they have built up and they wind up in the revolving door of failed support arrangements.

In both children’s and adults’ services, there is constant churn and movement, whether it is children being moved multiple times during an already troubled childhood, or adults getting intimate personal care from a succession of strangers on a staff rota. Whereas in ‘ordinary’ life, most of us crave some kind of attachment, mutual dependency and feeling settled. As in so many things, services could learn a great deal from ordinary family life, if only we had the humility.

Our family

Here is the second in what I hope might be a series of guest blogs from Shared Lives carers and their families talking about what it’s like for children growing up in a Shared Lives household. Many thanks indeed to PossAbilities Shared Lives scheme and to Jamie, Amanda, Jonathan and Thomas and their household for sharing their inspiring story:

Our Family

 

Our children Jonathan and Thomas have lived with people with learning disabilities permanently from infancy. Michael and John moved in with us in 1998 and shared all aspects of family life with the boys. Ranging from: shared swimming lessons, to boarding a plane for the first time on our family holiday.

Jonathan and Thomas viewed John as a third Granddad and watched his beloved Formula 1 racing with him each Sunday. John had had a stroke and had limited speech Jonathan and Thomas would always try to listen to his thoughts without causing John any frustration, putting the motto ‘we’ll get there in the end’ to practice. Sadly, John passed away in 2007 this was a difficult time for the boys but fond memories of him remain. They still watch Formula 1 each Sunday as a result of their interaction with him from such an early age.

Michael was more of a friend to Jonathan and Thomas as they had shared interests including: swimming, superheroes and trips to visit Bradley Bear in the lakes. Michael is still part of our family and despite the boys being aged 17 and 18 they are still referred to as ‘Kid’ by Michael, even when they are driving him for a burger.

Louise joined our family in 2003, initially she was joining temporarily for the weekend but refused to go home. Her mum and sister said she had made her choice and she has been a pivotal part of the family ever since. Louise doted on the boys from day one, and this was replicated by them. Unfortunately, Louise fell ill in 2013 and had to undergo chemotherapy. This had a profound effect on the boys as well as the rest of the family. Jonathan and Thomas were exceptional in aiding Louise throughout her time of need, from running for the ‘sick bowl’ to watching movies with her, always trying to make her smile. We must mention the close friends of the boys who provided fantastic support through this time. They often visited Louise, and were always enquiring over the phone how Louise was doing following trips to the hospital. They were thankfully able to attend the celebration of Louise overcoming her illness at our home. A fact which brought great joy to Louise, who had a wonderful evening.

Wendy came to live with us in 2008, though she was already a member of our extended family, living with the boys’ Gran, in her role Continue reading

Growing up sharing my life

This job really is a privilege sometimes. We’ve been looking at what it’s like for children growing up in Shared Lives households and I’m very grateful to Niamh, aged 12, who has written the account below of growing up sharing your life, which I think you’ll agree is absolutely brilliant. Thanks also to Niamh’s family including her Dad Martin, who shared this with us and Carole and the team at their Shared Lives scheme, run by Rotherham Council:

The reason that I like Shared Lives is because it gives the peoples Parents or Carers a break so that they can have a rest from looking after and caring for their family members  for a short period of time so that they can have some time to themselves. Also the People who come to have respite with us can socialise with other people because my Mum and Dad take other people out, my dad several nights a week and my mum on a Saturday.

Sam

Sam
Sam

Sam was the first ever person from Shared Lives who stayed with us at our house. Even though Sam is blind he has got a great sense of hearing and never misses a trick !. At first I thought me and Sam had nothing in common but I was wrong, he loves music and I love music. We have lots in common so when Sam comes to stay with us on a weekend, at night I go on YouTube on my laptop with him, he says which songs he wants to listen to and I find them for him which he then listens to on his headphones- this can go on for hours!- Sam likes Boyzone, Tom Jones & Kylie !

The first time Sam came to stop with us was for 1 week whilst his shared lives carer went into hospital. My dad along with me and a couple of my friends took Sam to York Maze. It was a really good day out because when we arrived at York Maze me and Sam had our picture took with the York Maze logo ‘Corn on The Cob’. Later on when we got home we went on YouTube.

Sam
Sam

Me, Sam and ‘Corn On The Cob’ at York Maze

My friends have become a big part of Shared Lives because whenever they come to my house in a morning to meet me for school and someone’s been stopping the previous night, they always say to them “hello” and “how are you?” One person who  Sam especially likes is Cendal. When Sam comes to stop at our house he always asks “Is Cendal coming” or “don’t tell Cendal” if his has been up to any of his tricks like turning the television over with the remote control!- Sam is a bit of a prankster !!

Steven

It wasn’t so long ago that it was Stevens first time at our house, Also like Sam I thought we had nothing in common but I was wrong because he is 19 and likes playing video games so when he comes to my house I bring my Xbox down stairs and at night we play on it, we play on games such as Fifa 15, Sims 3 and both of our favourite Xbox game Minecraft. When Steven comes to our house we always play on it. When Steven last came to stay my Mum said to me “would you like a baby brother or sister” and Steven said “you don’t need a brother because you’ve got me”. I thought that was a really nice thing to say because he thinks of me as a sister to him.

Michael

Michael
Michael

What can I say about Michael, Whenever he comes to stop at our house he always has something to say. Even though he has Down Syndrome he knows lots of things. He knows lots about Music and who sings which songs. Michael is also very knowledgeable and tells me things that I didn’t even know like when Coronation Street first appeared on the T.V. which is one of Michael’s favourite TV programmes, and every time he comes to stop at our house we all watch Coronation Street down stairs in the Front room. When he comes to stop at our house he keeps a picture of Leanne (actress Jane Danson) (out of coronation street) in his bedroom on his bed side table.

Hilda

Hilda
Hilda

The first time that I met Hilda she was a bit shy, but as she has grown to know me more she isn’t as shy. My mum takes Hilda out on a Saturday for 4 hours, we have taken her to Mexborough, Rotherham, Meadowhall, as well as going out for lunch, helping her with her shopping and getting her hair cut and we have recently taken her to see the Christmas Coca Cola van at Hudderfield on which she was photographed.  Last year we went to Cleethorpes for the day and we took Hilda with us, it was a really good day out and she really enjoyed it. Sometimes when the weather is not very good to go out, my mum stays at home and cooks buns and cakes with Hilda. Every time Hilda comes to our house she always makes me smile and laugh. She always has a smile on her face with makes everyone else smile. Hilda loves having a Hot Chocolate made of milk !

Oscar

Even Oscar our Spaniel dog  has taken an interest in Shared Lives.

As he says

‘Shared Lives Rules!’

Woof Woof !!

Oscar
Oscar

In my opinion Share Lives is a great thing. It has really shown me how lucky I am and not to take things for granted, it has made me appreciate what I have in my life when other people may be a bit less fortunate than me. By me helping and supporting my parents with Shared Lives is a good way for me to bring a bit of happiness to other people.

I help my Mum and Dad care for people with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities .

By Niamh

12 Years Old

Giving parents with a learning disability a chance

BBC Radio Four’s Women’s Hour featured Lisa, a parent with a learning disability and her Shared Lives carer, Dawn, from Shared Lives South West. The article was followed by a debate about the issues. Lisa is parenting her daughter successfully and now needs relatively low levels of support: raising the question of why Shared Lives support for parents with learning disabilities is not the norm. Listen to the article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00xxjp3

Are parents with learning disabilities set up to fail?

NAAPS CEO Alex Fox used his latest Community Care column to tackle what he called the ‘hidden national scandal’ of support services for parents with learning disabilities. Whilst documents such as Think Local, Act Personal set out a vision in which people who have support needs are entitled to pursue ordinary lives and enjoy equal rights, choice and control can be in short supply when people with learning disabilities want to have children.

Whilst children’s services can be swift to identify risk, neither adults’ nor children’s services are well equipped to assess that risk without prejudice nor to provide timely, accessible support and buck-passing is common. Parents with learning disabilities are routinely asked to demonstrate their parenting competence in the alien and stressful environment of an assessment centre and given information which they cannot read or understand.

One parent was taught to bottle-feed her baby, but not about weaning, with the result that nutrition and neglect concerns arose later on: she was still bottle feeding exactly as she’d been instructed.

Traditional services are usually deemed too expensive to provide the out of hours support which would allay children’s services’ safeguarding concerns. Parents with mild learning disabilities may wrongly be deemed ineligible for adults’ services. Shared Lives has been shown to have the potential to end that catch-22 situation, because it is an affordable Continue reading