April 20, 2020
Shared Lives carers create Covid-19 learning academy
Dave and Chris are PSS Shared Lives carers who live in Newcastle-under-Lyme. They support three young women aged 19-24 who all lived in foster care as children. Chloe, Natasha and Rachael all have learning disabilities and when they became adults, they didn’t feel ready or able to live on their own. Shared Lives carers like Chris and Dave can support young adults to find their way in life, moving into their homes until the time is right for them – however long that may be. This is called Shared Lives: Move On, because it supports young adults leaving the formal children’s care system to move on from this whilst finding a home where they feel supported but can also gain independence. Often, going straight into a house or flat on their own can seem quite daunting, especially for adults with learning disabilities so Shared Lives: Move on is a great option for social workers exploring the best next steps with someone leaving children’s care or foster care. Chloe and Natasha are sisters who are now so happy to be able to live together with Rachael, Chris and Dave. All three women, supported by carers, Chris and Dave, unfortunately experienced traumatic childhoods which still affect them in their adult life. They can all struggle with low mood and have experienced poor mental health in the past which they continue to manage today. They find that having structure and routine in their days really helps. Chloe, Natasha and Rachael all lead independent lives with Shared Lives. They are used to attending college and learning life skills every day, along with volunteering, working and socialising with friends. This sort of independence is what Shared Lives is really about; giving people the confidence to do all the things they want to do in their life, to develop new skills and to feel happier. Faced with the prospect of being stuck at home during Covid-19, Chloe, Natasha and Rachael were understandably feeling quite anxious and Dave and Chris were really concerned about the impact this could have on their mental health and wellbeing.
So, Dave decided to face the situation proactively. He did his research on home-schooling people with learning disabilities and sat down with the young women to plan what they could do at home. And, not wanting to spare on the attention to detail, carer Dave took on the task of creating not just a school, but an academy in his back garden. Dave usually uses his little cabin outside for his snooker table, but he sacrificed this to ensure that Chloe, Natasha and Rachael continued to get the best education possible. He sorted a big table and learning space for the girls, bought some flip-charts for interactive lessons and devised a jam-packed schedule of educational and enjoyable activities to maintain that crucial sense of routine for the girls whilst developing their life skills and keeping them fit and active. At ‘Dave’s Academy’, which the girls have lovingly named it, there is a calendar of sessions that the girls have shaped themselves. The focus is on giving them tools that they can use once they move out independently – one of the ways that Shared Lives carers can support young people who have left the formal children’s care system. And Dave says he is enjoying teaching the young women just as much, he finds caring such a rewarding role anyway but now, more than ever, he is delighted to be supporting Chloe, Natasha and Rachael.
One of the great lessons that Dave teaches the girls is around cooking. But it’s not just about actually making the meal, it also factors in all the practical considerations. The girls think about the realistic budget they might have for a week and the cost for meals every day, breaking things down to even the price of one slice of bread. This really supports them to understand what life might be like living on their own and feel more confident and ready. Another important skill that the girls have been learning about is being able to tell the time better. They all wanted to develop on this. This is a big part of Shared Lives; supporting independent life skills. There is also time for exercise, with laps of the garden happening daily so the girls can stay fit, healthy and mentally well. Dave takes his time teaching and tells them that they don’t have to get it right first time, it’s about trying and then trying again. This really supports the three women to feel even more supported and listened to. On top of this important stuff, Dave makes time for plenty of fun with the young women, getting ideas from them on weekly arts and crafts projects and also having lots of downtime and movie nights. Chloe, Natasha and Rachael are really enjoying keeping busy and learning and find that their days are flying by. They love getting together at weekends and socialising with each other too as well as helping out around the home. It’s great that they have each other, living together under one roof and still get the opportunity to chat to other people like them. Lots of Shared Lives carers support a few people at once and find that this really makes that feeling of family even stronger. Dave and Chris say that the young women they care for really give them a sense of purpose and make their home whole.
Chloe, Natasha and Rachael have really become a part of the family and have been supported so much with their emotions and with accomplishing their goals in the past few years. They have continued to grow and develop since moving into their Shared Lives: Move on placement and Dave and Chris certainly didn’t want this to stop during Covid-19. The carers say that they now have an even greater understanding of the girls and how best that they can support them. Something very positive to have come from a negative situation.
Shared Lives supports all sorts of different people; people with disabilities, mental health needs, new parents, people leaving hospital who need support finding their feet, people overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction, people moving on from the formal children’s care system and lots more vulnerable adults. You can find out more by visiting: makeyourself.org.uk