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Blog: Happy, Healthy, Fulfilled and Connected

Blog: Happy, Healthy, Fulfilled and Connected

Ali Hall talks about her work for Shared Lives Plus.

Shared Lives is where someone who needs support moves in with or regularly visits a Shared Lives carer. Together they share family and community life. Shared Lives supports people with a wide range of needs, including young people in transition, from age 16 and has a great deal to offer young people at a time of change in their lives.

As Development Officer for young people in transition at Shared Lives Plus, I try to connect the dots between what young people with support needs want for themselves, what our national leaders and local professionals want for young people, and what Shared Lives wants for young people. It’s not necessarily as difficult as it may sound. That’s because, although these groups often use different language or terminology, the wants are generally the same. Indeed, all aims are in line with what the Dept of Education and its partners set out to achieve in Preparing for Adulthood; meaningful occupation, independence in daily living, increased health, friendships, relationships and community inclusion.

Shared Lives promotes independence in a supported and timely way. Whilst schools, colleges and post-16 providers include a focus on housing options it can be hard to fully understand what’s available. Many professionals don’t know that Shared Lives is an option for young people aged 16+, so young people rarely find out either. In Shared Lives young people are encouraged to meet prospective carers and make informed decisions about who they want to live with. They might – as we all do - have a preference over city or country living, about living with children or pets, or with someone who has the same interests, beliefs, or hobbies. A crucial step on the road to independence is having opportunities and support to make these big decisions.

Once in a Shared Lives arrangement, all roads lead to building independence. Young people and their Shared Lives carers share normal, family life together; from cleaning and tidying, planning and preparing meals; to decorating your bedroom and budgeting for holidays. Shared Lives is not a simulator for normal home life, it is normal home life, so young people gain these skills in very normal ways. Paul moved to Shared Lives at aged 17 after some challenging moves. As he told me: “Now I’m more independent, I feel good. I do my shower, my dress, my own teeth, my own clothes. The whole thing is fine, and I keep doing fine.”

The beauty of Shared Lives is that it provides a consistent adult who can help young people gauge their entry point into the world of work. For some young people, paid employment might be their goal; for others, developing skills and actively contributing to the world through volunteering or community engagement might be appropriate. Shared Lives tailors support so young people thrive in both their interests and occupations. Many people in Shared Lives volunteer for the first time, perhaps with the support of the Shared Lives carer initially but their support often reduces as someone’s skills and confidence increases. Shared Lives Carers are excellently placed to help young people create clear pathways to employment, volunteering and supported internships because they are a constant in their life and can support their decision-making in an informed way. They can offer a personal connection as well as professional knowledge and know-how.

Young people in Shared Lives are supported to manage their health and wellbeing. Shared Lives carers support young people to navigate the healthcare system, ensuring they access the right care at the right time and that this is delivered in an appropriate way for their needs. Shared Lives carers can play a key role in the Education and Health Care (EHC) planning process and help young people manage their physical, mental and emotional health. For many, Shared Lives is itself part of the solution to improving physical and mental ill health. Many people come to Shared Lives following trauma, hospital, or unsettling times of change – which can be difficult enough for any teenager and even more so for those with support needs. Shared Lives provides stability. It offers a framework to maintain good health, whether that’s improving nutrition by having someone to prepare meals with, someone to support with medication, or even if it’s just a reminder to get your prescriptions or to go for reviews. It can even be as straightforward as having someone to talk to at the end of the day and knowing that you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s the simple and subtle things that make the have the greatest impact.

But perhaps the most significant part of Shared Lives is its success in helping people build friendships and relationships and to truly be included in their community. Young people are supported to spend time with their peers, maintain existing relationships and build new ones. It helps young people to maintain connections with people that are important to them, whilst opening new doors, through joining clubs, getting to know Shared Lives carers’ extended family and friends, and accessing local leisure opportunities. Paul put it nicely in our recent conversation, “Tomorrow we're going to a party of a friend. They’re going to get wine, they’re going to have food at the table. There’s going to be a DJ, who I’ve met before. There’s going to be a balloon and it’s so big.”

In Shared Lives, there are organic ways to both access the community and contribute to it, in ways that help young people feel safe, valued and confident, with a sense of belonging.

Finally, perhaps the biggest thing that Shared Lives and Preparing for Adulthood have in common is that they ensure young people’s needs are being listened to and reflected, with outcomes based on what young people say is important to them. Young people want the same things as professionals, such as government, practitioners, commissioners and therapists, want for them - to have healthy, fulfilling lives with choice and autonomy about their futures and the support they access; and ultimately to be happy and connected to others. This is a unifying vision that both Shared Lives and Preparing for Adulthood can be proud to rally behind.

To find out more, visit the Shared Lives Plus website.

Released On 4th Sep 2018