‘Janet’, who has learning difficulties, has been looked after for the last 15 years by ‘Alison’ – not their real names – as part of the Shared Lives scheme operated by Lancashire County Council.
The programme is sometimes likened to adult fostering and sees vulnerable individuals move in with a family who offer them whatever support they need to live happily and safely in the community.
But Alison has recently been diagnosed with a serious illness which means she will be unable to care for 55-year-old Janet for much longer.
“Janet and I get along really well together – we both get such a lot out of Shared Lives and I’ve really enjoyed being her carer over the years,” Alison reflects.
“I’m absolutely heartbroken, but determined to make sure Janet gets the support and the home she needs when I become unwell.”
There are no restrictions on the type of household which will be considered to take part in Shared Lives, with each individual application judged on its own merits. The only stipulation in the search to find somebody to care for Janet is that they must also be willing to welcome her small canine companion, Bailey.
Programme co-ordinator Lydia Ferguson says the authority will do everything it can to make the change as “stress-free” as possible for both Janet and Alison.
Their story comes during Shared Lives Week, a nationwide event designed to celebrate and promote the concept, which operates across much of the country.
However, the Lancashire County Council version of the scheme is the only one to have been rated “outstanding” across all five criteria on which it is judged by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission.
In a glowing report from inspectors, the service was praised for the way carers ensured the people they were looking after became “part of the family”.
“People unanimously told us carers and staff were exceptionally compassionate and kind,” the report said.
“The robust recruitment processes for staff and carers, along with the matching process, had exceptionally positive outcomes for people,” it added.
That matching process involves making sure that applicants are not just suitable to offer care – but suitable for the particular individual to be placed with them.
Lydia recognises that welcoming a stranger into your home is a massive step and commitment.
“We do talk people through everything – we go through the expectations of being a carer in terms of the support they will have to give, as well as explaining the training and support we will offer them.
“It’s so rewarding to see what people get out of the service – the change in people’s lives is amazing,” Lydia adds.
Carers receive a weekly allowance for their work and require a spare bedroom for each individual who comes to stay with them. Support can be provided for short periods of respite or on a permanent basis.
Anybody interested in becoming a carer for Janet in Central Lancashire – or another individual elsewhere in the county – should contact the Shared Lives team on 01772 531326 or email [email protected]