1 July 2014

I’ve been ‘fostering’ Brian for 31 years!

New carers wanted for council’s Shared Lives scheme for vulnerable adults

Shared Lives carer Marian Ferguson with BrianIn 1983 Marian Ferguson and her husband decided to become foster carers for Brian, a young boy with Downs Syndrome.

Wind the clock forward 31 years to the present day – and Brian is still happily living with Marian.

It’s a success story that has come about through Brighton & Hove City Council’s ‘Shared Lives’ scheme.

Shared Lives links up vulnerable adults with carers who provide support and accommodation in their own home. It’s like fostering, but for adults who need extra support rather than children.

The Shared Lives team is looking for more carers. It can be either on a full-time, short-breaks or sessional basis.

Full training and support are provided. You receive a fee from the council based on the needs of each person you support.

If you’d like to know more about the council’s Shared Lives scheme, please:

Marian and Brian

Marian Ferguson had worked with children with disabilities since leaving school. After a stint running a children’s home in Coldean she decided to change tack, but still wanted to do something to help children with disabilities.

She originally met Brian, then aged eight, through a scheme called Be My Parent, which is run by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

For much of his childhood Brian was a student at Downs View school in Woodingdean – which was convenient for Marian as she was working there for a number of years. Then, when he turned 18, what started off as a fostering arrangement for a child turned into something much more long-term.

Marian says it was partly at the insistence of her two sons – who are only a couple of years older than Brian and who have always treated him as a brother – that they chose to carry on looking after Brian.

“We wanted to continue what was a very successful fostering arrangement into Brian’s adult life. With the support of the council’s Shared Lives scheme we’ve been able to do this.”

Marian says attitudes to people with Down's Syndrome have changed a lot in the 31 years they have been supporting Brian.

“In those days many people thought Down’s Syndrome was something to be hidden away rather than spoken about. There were people who simply couldn’t understand why I had chosen to look after Brian.

“Things have definitely changed for the better since then.

“We’re a pretty close-knit family and I get lots of support from my sons in particular, but it’s nice to know that the Shared Lives team is there to offer support when we need it.”

Brian leads a busy life. With support from the council’s adult social care team he attends a number of groups during the week.

These include a film group and history project and a recycling scheme. Brian also does some basic clerical work on Wednesdays in a council-supported scheme, and visits his girlfriend at a centre run by the council for people with learning disabilities.

Marian’s youngest son also takes Brian out somewhere most weekends.

It’s not all been easy for Marian and Brian. He has had some serious health problems as an adult, and the recent death of Marian’s husband – the man Brian treated as his father – was a big blow for both of them.

But there’s no doubt in Marian’s mind that having Brian living with her through the Shared Lives scheme has been one of the best things that’s happened to her.

“Shared Lives has been great for me. It’s been really rewarding and wonderful,” she says.

“My philosophy in life is to give things a go. Even if you only give a little bit of your time to something or someone it’s still a great thing to do.

“I think Shared Lives has been great for Brian as well. It’s given him the love, support and stability of a family that he might not otherwise have had. If anything my husband’s death has brought us even closer together.

“I love Brian as my own son and I love having him around the house. He treats me as his mother and there will always be a loving home for him here.”