Shared Lives: support and accommodation for parents with learning disabilities

Have you ever felt like someone you support could benefit from the TLC of a supportive relative, a trusted friend or a friendly practitioner? Shared Lives is a model of care and accommodation that helps bridge the gaps for parents with learning disabilities, giving them the support they need and deserve, as parents and as people.

Shared Lives, sometimes known as Adult Placements’, has been supporting people with learning disabilities for 40 years. In Shared Lives someone moves into the home of a Shared Lives carer. They become part of the family and community and receive the care and support they need. It’s a way to gain independence and practical living skills, and to practise safe relationships within a supportive friend or family environment. In some cases, people use Shared Lives for short breaks and day support.

It is estimated that between 40% and 60% of parents with a learning disability have their children removed from them. But research consistently highlights that people with learning disabilities, with the right support, are good parents.

Following a successful pilot in England, Shared Lives Plus, as part of The Promise, is working to offer more Shared Lives arrangements for parents with learning disabilities in Scotland. The Supported Parenting Project will enable parents with a learning disability and their children to develop and maintain safe, loving relationships, with a view to helping them remain together, where appropriate.

Abby, who lives in a Shared Lives arrangement, describes her experience:

‘When my daughter Isabella was born, it should have been the happiest moment of my life. But the maternity nurses noticed that my autism meant I was struggling, and they needed to let somebody know. Soon, I was being visited by loads of professionals – talking about what would happen to me and my baby. It was daunting, and stressful. Isabella came under child protection, and I had to follow conflicting and confusing instructions. I thought I was going to have to stay in a secure unit with Isabella, or even lose her altogether. I felt set up to fail as a new mum.
My family worked long hours, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the support I needed at home. But then my social worker told me about Shared Lives, and I found there was another way. The Shared Lives scheme introduced me to Mel who became my Shared Lives carer. We met and got on straight away. Then Isabella and I moved in with Mel and her family.
What I struggled most with was a sense of routine and time-keeping. For Mel, it would be a case of constantly reminding and encouraging me, like ‘Abby, it’s past half six now, will you get Isabella in the bath?’ With Mel’s support, I learned to bathe Isabella, put her to bed, how to wean her and keep her safe. I have learned to cook healthily to set a good example to Isabella. I feel more confident and I’ve turned my life around. Together, we have seen Isabella grow into a healthy and happy little girl.’

The parenting project runs in Scotland until 31 March 2023. We would love to speak to professionals working in this field in Scotland. Contact Ali Miller, Shared Lives Plus: 07435 125 131,