11 July 2013

Caring scheme is ‘like fostering for adults’


How would you like to open your home up to an adult who has a disability?

Brighton & Hove City Council runs a scheme called ‘Shared Lives’. It’s a bit like fostering – except that it’s an adult with a physical or learning disability that you provide a home for. The scheme also helps support some older people.

Some carers prefer to have long-term placements, others prefer short-term respite work.

With fees of up to £459 per week, much of which is tax free, being a Shared Lives carer can be a serious alternative to a ‘normal’ 9-5 job. The council gives every carer full training and first class support.

Two of the council’s Shared Lives carers – Lyn Knight and Jill Poulter – explain below what they do and why they’re so passionate about their role.

If you can’t make the Shared Lives information day on 16 July but would like to know more about the scheme, please:

  • ​phone (01273) 295550
  • email info.sharedlives@brighton-hove.gov.uk
  • visit www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/sharedlives

Lyn Knight has been a Shared Lives carer for around 20 years. She specialises in offering long-term care – and of the three people who currently live with her one has been there for the whole 20-odd years.

For Lyn it’s about building relationships. “These are people with learning disabilities, and it can take time for them to settle in,” she says.

“Some may not have come from a stable home life, and some may never have experienced that sense of security that it brings. Once they have settled in you see such an improvement in how happy and confident they are, and that’s incredibly rewarding.”

Lyn used to have a normal day job in social services, but wanted to be based at home after the birth of her second child.

“The Shared Lives scheme meant I could be at home for my children, and pick them up from school. It’s also been good for my children – they have grown up to be very nice people, and are I think less judgmental and more rounded for having had people with learning disabilities around them.”

You don’t need previous professional experience in a caring role to be a Shared Lives carer. One of Lyn’s friends made the decision to join the Shared Lives scheme after seeing how it all worked at Lyn’s house.

“The training you get from the council is very thorough and it’s ongoing the whole time you’re working in the role.”

“Patience is everything in this role. Sometimes you have to take a step back and realise how frustrating life must be for them sometimes. Going to a shop and buying a magazine is something I take for granted, but people with learning disabilities are likely to need someone to enable them to do even basic things like this.

“You have to do everything you can to treat people as individuals and really make them feel they belong in your home. Most days the people I look after go out to day activities organised by the council. But when they come home to my house I want them to feel a sense of inclusion in the family.

“The people we support are always invited to our birthday parties, for example. But at the same time bedrooms are counted as private space – ours as well as theirs.”

“Nobody would pretend that it’s always easy – it can be challenging at times. But for me it’s been a great alternative to a normal 9-5 job and I really love what I do.”

Jill Poulter does short-term respite caring, minimum overnight stay but generally more like three nights a month. She works mainly with younger adults.

The need for such a service hit her while working for the YMCA back in the 1980s when she first started working with a group of young adults with learning disabilities.

“Things were much more institutionalised even in those days. I became aware of how beneficial it was for them to get out and about more and have social interaction.

“As a Shared Lives carer promoting the independence of the people I work with is at the heart of everything I do. This can mean anything from helping them learn to use public transport or handle money to cooking and taking responsibility for washing, cleaning and personal hygiene.

“I want them to be able to lead the most normal life they possibly can. When the expectation is that they get involved in things I find they generally respond really well. I almost always have more than one young person staying with me at a time. They really benefit from each other’s company.

“They choose what sorts of activities they want to get involved in, and I try to facilitate them. It can be anything from a trip to London to a walk in the country to bowling or swimming. They generally like to go to the pub on a Friday night as well.

“When they are at my house I treat them as part of the family. I try to give them all the emotional support they need and make sure they are fully integrated into my family life.

“It’s really satisfying to see people doing things they wouldn’t previously have done themselves. It also means a lot to their families and I get a lot of positive feedback from them as well. I don’t look on it as work. The council’s Shared Lives team is good at playing to my strengths when it comes to matching me with young people.

“Obviously there are difficult moments but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it.”