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Improving outcomes through Shared Lives

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Care and support, Communities, Leadership, Social care reform
Tree house
The Shared Lives care model is growing again and it's a great way to care - and live. [Image created by]

Going for growth

The word ‘growth’ has attracted a bit of negative press in recent months. We have seen growth in bad things: cost of living, instability at home and abroad, and care worker turnover. But I want to talk about good growth, in this case, the growth of Shared Lives.

It’s an approach where an adult or young person, who needs long term support, is matched with a carefully approved Shared Lives carer. Together, the person needing support and the Shared Lives carer share the carer’s family and community life.

Although Shared Lives has not grown as rapidly in recent years (with the pandemic a contributing factor), it has shown remarkable resilience. Our workforce remains stable, with a 12% turnover amongst scheme workers.

Why grow Shared Lives? Thoughts from Tom Milnes

I have been supported by Shared Lives for the past four years and am lucky enough to be an ambassador for them, allowing me to tell my story based on my own lived experience. To me, the growth of Shared Lives is not only an amazing prospect but a necessity.

The combination of environmental and close, relationship-based care allowed me to recover faster and build on my personal and emotional development. Alternative forms of care , which I accessed for many years prior to Shared Lives, left me ‘in limbo'. They tended to enable the lifestyle I had,  rather than addressing any development needs.

Cue Shared Lives! There are two  important factors that make them such a positive choice. Firstly, there is the environment. A home is somewhere we spend most of our lives in. But not all homes are safe, stable or comfortable and this can negatively impact how a person develops. A good, loving home allows a person to cement who they are and blossom as an individual.

Secondly, relationships are important. My carer, and the other two people supported by Shared Lives, all care about each other. We live together in a home and we all look after each other. These relationships help me feel like someone cares and that I have a place I can call home.

Without Shared Lives I could have remained in the care ‘limbo’ I described earlier. Hopefully, I can move on and live independently and contribute to society. Care should enable people and not limit them.

Shared Lives Carers and those they care for in a car
Relationships are important. Shared Lives carers and those they care for look out for each other.

What makes a difference?

We highlight some key steps in a new guide on Growing Shared Lives.

Leadership commitment: Strong leadership is crucial for any improvement to social care systems. When Tom and I visited the Bradford Shared Lives scheme, we were joined by Strategic Director of Health and Wellbeing, Iain MacBeath. He said:

“The outcomes that Shared Lives delivers are truly remarkable. Shared Lives is an integral part of our strategy to develop a more person-centred, community-based approach to support, which puts the individual at the centre of decisions about how they are supported.”

Making the case for investment: As business cases go, Shared Lives is a good one – it is a proven model for reducing costs and improving outcomes, as well as being the highest rated form of social care, with 96% of all schemes rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’.

Integration: People working in social care sometimes tell me they feel somewhat hidden and easily forgotten - they need to be part of the mainstream social care service. This means raising awareness of Shared Lives within social work teams, so they are on hand to make more referrals.

Dedicated focus on carer recruitment

One of the biggest barriers to growth is carer recruitment. There is much to learn from areas leading on recruitment. Joining up with foster agencies can help target potential new carers. Having a dedicated officer focusing on recruitment, can make sure the focus is maintained. Also being part of campaigns ‘bigger than us’, including DHSC’s Made With Care resources.

Shared Lives is just one example of the good things happening in social care, but there are plenty of others, many of which are listed in the Directory of Community Centred Support.

Right now, our focus is to find ways to reinvigorate Shared Lives and return to an upward trajectory. So next time someone talks about growth, don’t think of all the negatives. Think ‘good growth’, think Shared Lives growth.

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