May 13, 2014
The Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the University of Kent has just reported on its research findings at a recent Shared Lives event, exploring whether the Shared Lives service could be a potential option for older people. They reported on the lessons learnt and the future prospects for this service, in an area that has received little research until now. The event took place on the 25th April in London and was well attended by Shared Lives practitioners, Local Authority service commissioners, Shared Lives Plus representatives, Shared Lives carers and service users.
As the State of Shared Lives in England 2014 report states “Shared Lives offers a flexible, person-centred solution to housing, care and support needs for older and disabled people, giving people the opportunity to share family and community life with a Shared Lives carer.”
Shared Lives is not a new concept. At the event were those who had been working with the scheme since the 1970s, when it was mainly geared for people with learning disabilities. However, in recent years the service has looked to expand to support older people too. It is the feasibility of offering Shared Lives for older people that has been the focus of this research.
The research findings overwhelmingly demonstrated that Shared Lives was a greatly appreciated service. 74% of Shared Lives users rated their overall quality of life as good or very good. Survey responses demonstrated this further with one commenting that “being made to feel part of a family gives me confidence and a feeling of being wanted and not alone.” Another said “it’s a lifeline – it’s contact – it’s help to live – it’s support and very valuable.” At the launch event, an elderly service user who has benefitted from the Shared Lives scheme, gave a very moving testimony as to how their Shared Lives carer has helped her and her husband remain in their own home.
The research demonstrated the wide variety of options Shared Lives can deliver for older people ranging from:
- Long-term residential care
- Day time arrangements
- Respite/short breaks
- Outreach/kinship support
Findings showed there is support for the expansion of the Shared Lives service for older people. Providing average costs for the establishment of these schemes have been difficult to quantify given the varied size and structures of the schemes in place across the country. Likely future demand for the service has been examined using the Delphi process and reporting on these findings will follow shortly.
Details from three Shared Lives case studies were presented from Oxford, Leeds and Kent, all of whom have been developing a Shared Lives service for older people. Representatives from each of these areas were present and able to offer invaluable insights. Staff from Kent offered an interesting perspective as their scheme has only recently been established and they were able to feedback on the challenges they have faced in setting up this new service. Discussions centred on exploring the most effective ways to raise awareness for Shared Lives and what it can offer to both clients and carers.
Barriers for the potential expansion of Shared Lives for older people have been highlighted by the research and these include:
- Lack of awareness of Shared Lives
- Lack of availability of carers with appropriate accommodation/skills
- Local Authority restructuring, budget pressures and structures
- Familiarity with other more traditional social care services
- Eligibility criteria
- Perceptions of safety and acceptability
The research also highlighted many opportunities for how the service can be expanded further including:
- Raising awareness of Shared Lives within Social Work teams
- Active promotion of Shared Lives, such as through Shared Lives Weeks
- Training for Shared Lives carers to support those with more complex needs
- Clear direction from senior management
- Taking advantage of opportunities from the Care Bill and its personalisation agenda
PSSRU researchers are determined to maximise the impact of this research and a part of that strategy included the recent launch event. A number of articles will be published reporting on these findings in much more detail. Shared Lives research web pages are also planned for release in the next few months. Look out for further blog posts highlighting this work.
This research has been conducted at a time when Shared Lives was not a widely known or used service, which has inevitably made sample sizes small and therefore limited the statistical reliability of the conclusions. However, what this research has done is provide an excellent baseline from which to measure future expansion of the service. Over the two years of this research project, Shared Lives Plus has grown considerably. Shared Lives Plus is the UK network for family-based and small-scale ways of supporting adults. They have recently received funding from the Big Lottery Fund and Nesta to support their ambition of doubling the size of Shared Lives in the next five years. Their web pages contain a wealth of information about what they offer.
This research project was funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research. The views expressed within this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR School for Social Care Research or the Department of Health.