Providing an alternative to care home and supported housing

Lancashire County Council's Shared Lives scheme matches people with learning disabilities with families in the community so they can live in their home, becoming part of their family, instead of staying in a residential facility. This case study forms part of the health inequalities hub.

Finding appropriate accommodation for people with learning disabilities has a major impact on their safety and quality of life, while also reducing social exclusion. However, many people with a learning disability do not have a choice.

While there has been a drive to reduce the numbers in hospital settings, often residential care or supported housing are the only options unless someone is able to live independently in their own home or can live with their family. Lancashire County Council has developed another option through its Shared Lives scheme, which sees people with learning disabilities living with others in the community.   

‘Fostering’ for vulnerable adults

The Shared Lives service is based on a fostering model. It matches adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, older people and those with mental health needs with families so they can live in their home, becoming part of their family instead of staying in a residential facility or being looked after by a team of support workers.

The carers are paid between £300 and £450 a week and receive training and ongoing support from the Shared Lives team of support workers.  

The service has been building on the range of support that this model offers since people were moving on from long stay institutions in the 1990s. It now has more than 400 carers, supporting 350 people, the majority of whom have a learning disability.

There are a range of different options available under the programme – long-term placements, where people live with the family and have their own room and private space, short term breaks and even daytime support. There is also what is called kinship support where a person may have lived with a Shared Lives carer but moves on to live independently while continuing to get support for things such as cooking, budgeting and medical appointment.

Shared Lives Service Manager Mike Schofield said: “The scheme offers people the opportunity to live in a family environment, allowing them to become part of a community where they can maintain existing friendships and develop new ones to help them gain the confidence and skills to become as independent as possible.

Many develop new daily living skills around the home and also continue to see their own family and friends as much as they want.

“Some live with their families for years – we have one individual who has been with the same family for more than 20 years. Others may only stay a short time – using it as a stepping- stone to living on their own or as a break from their families. Even when people move on, we have seen the relationships continue.”

‘Living with a family transformed my life’ 

The story of Leon is typical of the impact the service has. He moved in to live with a family after his mother died. At the time he was struggling with the loss and had put on weight - he was around 25 stone. But living with Julie and Mark and getting to know their children and grandchildren has helped him transform his life. He has completed Prince's Trust courses and taken up regular exercise, which has helped him lose nine stone. 

I've gained confidence and my social skills have come a long way since moving in with them.

As well as achieving positive outcomes, the approach is incredibly cost effective. Shared Lives Plus, the regulatory body for Shared Lives schemes around the country, estimates that for everyone using the scheme around £25,000 is saved per person a year from adult social care budgets.

The work in Lancashire has been recognised by the Care Quality Commission. It was rated in May 2019 as one of the best in the country, given an outstanding rating across all five domains.    

Mr Schofield said one of the key ingredients of the scheme's success is the time spent matching individuals to families.

We make sure the match is right. We look at shared interests. For example, we have one individual who likes fishing so we matched him with carers with similar interests. They go out twice a week now and it has really helped to develop that positive relationship.   

“The team also provides a lot of support to carers and the individuals. The CQC regulations require that you make four visits a year - our team regularly exceed that. These visits give us the opportunity to monitor the support provided and make sure that arrangements remain suitable for all parties.”

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