Lorraine and Steve Parker who are based in west Wales have five children – Dani, nine, Jake, six, Roy 65, Randell 74, and Mark 44.
Whilst Dani and Jake may be the couples biological children, Lorraine and Steve also made a choice to invite Roy – who has learning difficulties and a history of chronic alcoholism, Randell – who is deaf, without speech and schizophrenic, and Mark – who suffers from bipolar and learning difficulties – into their home and into their family.
The Parkers have a little-known organisation called Shared Lives to thank for their extended family, an organisation that place vulnerable adults who need a bit of protection and a stable permanent base into foster families.
The care of adults with learning difficulties has long since remained a delicate issue. These adults long for just the same as we all do, stability, love, warmth, a good feed and a certain level of dependence. What they probably don’t want is to be pushed into a care home, but they are unable to live completely unsupported.
Whilst the solution may be obvious, it is very difficult to ask already happy families to welcome an older adult, perhaps with learning difficulties and a troubled past, into their lives.
In comparison to that of fostering, schemes such as Shared Lives receive very little publicity – though slowly but surely, awareness of them is beginning to gradually increase.
According to Shared Lives CEO Alex Fox, the sector is continuing to grow organically. ‘Shared Lives doesn’t have the budget fostering has, but numbers of adult placements are growing by two per cent a year, because people are slowly realising that it means happier lives for less money.’ It is cheap to run – it costs from £13,000 to £23,400 a year to place a vulnerable adult in a Shared Lives family compared with up to £260,000 for a place in a care home.’
It would seem the benefits of Shared Lives have not gone unnoticed by local authorities, as there are now 152 schemes around the country. Because technically those involved in the schemes are ‘tenants’ this also means that the adults are well within their rights to keep their benefits – whereas local authority residents in a home will have a large percentage deducted in order to pay for their care.
Whilst some families may see taking on another adult as demanding and difficult, Lorraine and Steve seem to revel in the fact they have managed to bring such happiness to the lives of their foster family – no matter how unconventional they may seem to the average outsider.
‘It’s so rewarding for us to see how much happier and how much more stable and secure they’ve become…I don’t expect anything from them. I just want to make them as happy as possible.’ Explained Lorraine.
For more information about Shared Lives, please visit the website.
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