By Jack Woodhams
Shared Lives is a pioneering approach to social care, and is managed in York by local charity The Avalon Group. The Shared Lives approach sees trained carers open their homes to people with disabilities, mental health needs and/or dementia who can move in and become part of their family life either on a short or long-term basis.
In Jack and his wife Rose’s case they have been Shared Lives carers for 3 years, supporting Scott who is 21. Scott has learning difficulties and following his childhood spent in foster care, sought a service which would allow him to continue to grow and be independent. Shared Lives was the perfect solution, giving him a family home which will help him learn the skills he needs to eventually live by himself (which is his goal).
Speaking about his role as a Shared Lives carer, Jack said:
‘Not too many people are aware of Shared Lives, but I first became aware of it through my wife’s family, who have been doing it for 25 years. They were some of the first people in the country to do it. I also heard about the scheme from some of my learners from a course I used to run through York Learning.
‘At first we did respite and day break sessions with a few customers. This allowed us to test out the logistics of Shared Lives. We always felt we could offer a good caring home, but didn’t know if realistically the logistics of managing, feeding and supporting a busy household could work.
‘Originally, our plan was to start fully committing to Shared Lives when both our children were in school. We then started our training and were presented with people the scheme were looking to match with families, which is when I saw Scott who I’d taught at York Learning. I felt we could make a real difference to his life and it saw us start caring a couple of years earlier than planned.
‘After training we held initial meetings with Scott and Avalon and began providing short breaks for him. We felt we’d found a match and around three years ago Scott started living with us. Since then he has excelled and is now working in Choc Affair and volunteering across the city with Door 84, the Young People’s Council and School of Rock.’
‘It’s also great to spend time with him doing things we all enjoy as a family. This includes walking, trips away and going to watch Scott play rugby for the inclusive rugby team at York RI.’
So is it worth it? ‘Absolutely’ Jack says unequivocally. ‘We get so much back from our relationship with Scott, it really is mutually beneficial and Scott has a real positive effect on my kids who really get on with him. Seeing the improvement in Scott over the past 3 years has been amazing.’
‘Of course there are times when it’s difficult but there are countless times we’ve been really proud, seeing the improvements in Scott is very rewarding. At Avalon’s Shared Lives celebration event last year, hearing Scott talk about the scheme and say he was the happiest he has ever been in his life was incredible and makes it all worthwhile.’
‘It is an open arrangement and we have lots of support from Avalon, the people behind Shared Lives in York, and there is the option of short breaks care if we want to go abroad with the kids.
“The hope is that Scott will be empowered to live independently, but he will always be part of our lives in some way”
So how is the Shared Lives scheme working for Scott?
“Really good” he says. “I enjoy being with the family, especially chasing and playing with Henry (Jack’s four year old). I feel more independent, as I am able to cycle about and go on holidays with the family.”
“One day I would like to have my own home, but I would still like to be involved with the family. I would also like Leeds United to go up! (He says laughing)”
Jack has now started a new role as Shared Lives Development Manager with Avalon and they are currently looking for Shared Lives Carers If you feel you can do it, contact Jack Woodhams