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 Continue reading

If I could have picked a family, it would have been you

I was privileged to take part in our Scotland conference this month, at Stirling University. As usual, the Shared Lives carers and service users made the day. We heard from Ethel, a Shared Lives carer for 25 years, and from her daughter, who has also become a Shared Lives carer, as have both Ethel’s other children, now all living in different parts of the country. The first gentleman Ethel supported came to her for 15 days, when his Dad was ill. His Dad sadly died during his stay and he decided that he would just “stay with Ethel until I get married”. He still lives with her. Having had an entirely sedentary life at home, he discovered a love of all kinds of sport and a new confidence to go out and about. He still hasn’t got married, but does have a steady girlfriend.

Megan, in her early 20s, reflected upon her experience of being supported by Lynn, a Shared Lives carer with the Fife Supported Lodgings scheme which arranges family-based care for care leavers. Megan, who has lived independently for a few years now, said “I would have been an absolute wreck without them”. Lynn said, “If someone had told me I’d be doing this work 10 years ago, I would have laughed at them. I’d raised kids and that was enough. After ill health, I was trying to get back into work when I found about Fife Supported Lodgings. A highlight for me was when the first young man I supported said to me, ‘If I could have picked a family, it would have been you.’ Now all my family are involved: when Megan was between houses with a new baby, she stayed with my daughter for a couple of weeks and we’re all going to Megan’s daughter’s first birthday party later on today.”

Sharing your life with an ex-offender

Recently, I’ve been looking into the use of Shared Lives with people who offend.

About 8% of the general population is considered to have a learning disability or a ‘borderline’ learning disability. There is little consensus on the proportion of people in prison who have a learning disability, but the University of Liverpool looked at the people in three prisons in England in 2006-7 and found that 32% would be considered to have a learning disability or to be borderline, 6.7% being within the definition of learning disabled used by the Valuing People White Paper. So about 5,000 people with learning disabilities are in prison on a given day using that definition or 6,800 likely to be eligible for community services for people with learning disabilities. However, there are few community-based services for learning disabilities in the UK set up specifically to address offending, and few programmes for offenders or addiction services have been adapted for people with learning disabilities or learning difficulties.

We feel that there is real potential for the use of Shared Lives for ex-offenders, particularly for people who have learning disabilities.  ‘Darren’, who has a learning disability, moved in with Shared Lives carers ‘June and Rob’ six years ago when he was 18. He had committed serious sexual offences in his teens which had led to his being completed rejected by his family. Because of the level of risk, probation and social services were unable to find a placement in the whole of the region, other than a service which quoted £5,000 per week Continue reading

The UK needs Homeshare

Yesterday, we launched the new Homeshare good practice guide and calls on government (download them at We’ve had some good coverage in Community Care magazine: (article) and (my column).

In ‘Homeshare’, someone who needs some help to live independently in their own home is matched with someone who has a housing need and can provide a little support.

‘Householders’ are often older people who have their own home but who have developed some support needs or are isolated or anxious about living alone. ‘Homesharers’ are often students or key public service workers who cannot afford housing where they work. In a Homeshare scheme in Oxford, gap year volunteers live in with older people for mutual support during their first experience of living away from home.

The Homesharer provides an agreed level of help and support to the Householder whilst living in their home for an agreed period of time. Homesharers are not charged rent, but usually agree to contribute to household bills.

Gillian had a house; Neil needed somewhere to live. Gillian was worried about being alone and the responsibility of keeping things working; Neil, who does not own a home, was semi-retired, and could fix leaking taps. Gillian is 88, Neil 61, and they found each other through Homeshare. Today they share Gillian’s beautiful red-brick converted barn in a West Sussex village, with its beamed sitting room and fruit trees in the garden. No money changes hands, but Neil drives Gillian to doctor’s appointments and the supermarket and provides practical help around the house. He is a reassuring and useful presence, both physically and psychologically.

Gillian says, “We both put our names forward for Homeshare and, after vetting, it was decided we might be a good match. We met first in a neutral place, at the house of old friends of mine, then we had a couple of meals out. We haven’t got a terrific lot of things in common, but perhaps that’s why we get on. I think I get more out of it than Neil does.” (This story is from Agebomb – see the link in my blogroll).

There are 11 Homeshare schemes in six locations in the UK (see,  and we support the national network. Homeshare is small in the UK but much more significant in many other countries where there has perhaps been more investment and less red tape. So it was really encouraging to visit Crossroads Central and North London, who have just taken on the UK’s largest Homeshare scheme, which is supporting 80 matches very successfully and has big plans to develop the service. One of the reasons that Homeshare scheme has been successful Continue reading

Is it time for time banking?

Last week I was involved in some Cabinet Office-sponsored discussions about a time banking project being introduced to a local authority area. The idea is to introduce a system to incentivise people to provide low level, good neighbour type support. It would involve helping people to connect with each other and then turning people’s support into credits, which they could use to access council services or leisure activities. In the example that was worked through in the proposal, a young person (‘Jonny’) helps out an older woman with her shopping. The lady has paper credits to give him in return and there is a rating system which lets people know how highly Jonny is regarded by the people he helps. Jonny takes his credits to his local youth club and they are exchanged for something with value (bowling in this case).

This is all very Big Society. Incentivising larger numbers of people to help out older and isolated people at low cost is a very attractive idea in a time of stiff budget cuts.

Timebanking is an elegant idea that should be everywhere, but somehow isn’t. Why?

One challenge for timebanking and the use of complementary currencies is the paradox that, by valuing something that someone does for mainly altruistic reasons, you risk devaluing it Continue reading

Support for care leavers in Scotland

Back up to Scotland for the national conference, organised by the NAAPS Scotland team, Anne and Else, along with the Scotland Committee. Great to see Andrew Lowe, next year’s Association of Directors of Social Work singing along to a verse of “Consider yourself part of the family”, led by Jean, who discovered her singing voice and much more besides through a relationship with her Shared Lives carer Helena, which was self-evidently what Shared Lives is all about. Helena decided that the best way to help Jean lose weight was to join her in a diet – just one of the ways in which Helena was putting heart and soul into supporting Jean to build the self-care skills she needed to move towards living in her own place. Or as Helena put it, we support each other. The conference was well-supported: not only did Andrew give a thoughtful and impressive keynote (I’m grateful to him for the phrase, “the dignity of risk” amongst others), Jean MacLellan, Deputy Director, Adult Care and Support Division in the Primary and Community Care Directorate of the Scottish Government, chaired the event brilliantly.

Jamie talked to us about his experience of the Fife Council Supported Lodgings scheme, which provides Shared Lives-registered support to young people who are leaving care. In Scotland, the average age for care leavers to leave home Continue reading