Shared Lives is a model of social care supporting thousands of people with learning disabilities, as well as other health and social care needs. In Shared Lives, a person with care and support needs moves in with or regularly visits an approved Shared Lives carer, together they share family and community life.
As a model which has evolved hand in hand with the learning disability community, Shared Lives carers support people with all aspects of daily life, as well as major life changes. Part of that can involve supporting people as they become parents.
Becoming parents for the first time brings as many challenges as it does joy for any parent, but all parents need the right support systems in place to thrive. From health visitors, baby groups, to our networks of family and friends, it’s equally important that parents with learning disabilities have equal support to everyone else.
Around 40-60% of parents with learning disabilities have their children removed. With the right emotional and practical support, in a loving home, with healthy relationships and role modelling, parents with learning disabilities can and do parent well. Shared Lives works with parents to create loving homes for all families - with people who care, who get it, who can give a guiding hand when needed.
Supported parenting in Shared Lives involves a Shared Lives carer supporting a parent, so that the parent can raise their child themselves, in secure and loving homes. Shared Lives carers are there to help navigate parenthood, help to learn, and practice new skills - in a safe environment, to help raise healthy, thriving children. It’s different from substituted parenting, where a professional takes on the parenting role. Kerryann has shown us what parenting is like in Shared Lives.
Like other parents with learning disabilities across the UK, Kerryann wanted to build her independence and has had the support of Shared Lives as she becomes a first time mum. Kerryann had been supported by Shared Lives for nine years, living with her current Shared Lives carers for two years when she became pregnant. When Kerryann told her Shared Lives carers Sandra and Stephen, they supported her every step of the way.
The Cornerstone scheme added in weekly visits, to make sure Kerryann, Sandra and Stephen had everything they needed, to welcome baby home. Kerryann could ask for different support, to reflect her exciting new role as a mum. Sandra attended medical appointments and scans with Kerryann and was given the honour of being birthing partner. Whilst Kerryann did the hard work in labour, Sandra was alongside explaining the medical jargon.
Stephen and Sandra were alongside Kerryann throughout, making sure that her and her baby were safe. Kerryann describes this as a big deal for her as a very private person, but it helped having people she could trust involved. The Cornerstone Shared Lives scheme say that other professionals who understand the child protection process were able to support, such as the safeguarding midwife.
Kerryann’s care, commitment and the time invested in learning new skills were acknowledged and panel concluded that they were happy with the support in place and Kerryann and her child could stay together. Kerryann and baby are thriving and continue to blossom.
Kerryann wanted to build her independence from the start, for instance getting up with the baby during the night and understanding this was her responsibility and not the Shared Lives carers. Kerryann recognises that her daughter is number one and she puts her needs first.
All new parents need reminders of their value and worth. Shared Lives keeps this at the heart of its supported parenting approach - investing in parents, so that they can invest in themselves and their children and be the best parent they can.
All new parents lean on their support system, but not all support networks are created equal. The Shared Lives project reflects the compelling research in this area, showing us that parents with learning disabilities can and do make brilliant parents, when they are given the right support.
All parents involved in the project gained confidence, forged meaningful relationships, and strengthened their community ties. Shared Lives carers gave new mums someone to lean on and learn from, so they can do it for themselves, and for their children.
Ultimately, children were able to continue living with their parent, with greater attachment and flourishing relationships between parents and children. Parents have given their children the best start in life, even in the face what was described in the project evaluation as ‘systemic barriers’ in the services involved; the strength of parents in the Shared Lives project has shone through.
This blog was reviewed by Each and Every Child to ensure it speaks about care experienced and the care system in a way that will help create long lasting, positive change now, and in the future, for each and every child. To learn more and access further training and information on framing care experience visit: https://eachandeverychild.co.uk/