When the economy took a nosedive, Donna Hoyle admits that she half expected her phone to start ringing.
With unemployment on the rise and more families trying to make ends meet, many people are on the look-out for ways to earn a bit of extra money.
So a weekly care allowance and a special tax break might sound like an attractive proposition in return for opening up your home to a vulnerable adult.
But despite the financial incentives, the Shared Lives service in Portsmouth didn’t experience a sudden spike in the number of calls it received from those interested in getting involved.
In reality, there’s a lot more to being a carer than a wage, especially when the unique nature of this particular service relies on you welcoming others to join your family.
‘If they were just interested in earning an income, well, there needs to be more than that,’ explains Donna, the service manager. ‘This is about supporting an individual.’
Donna and her team work with adults who have learning or physical disabilities, mental health needs, or other circumstances that might make them vulnerable.
Living unsupported on their own might not be an option, but that doesn’t mean they don’t crave a more independent lifestyle.
Shared Lives matches these adults with families who are willing to share their own homes, giving them a bedroom of their own and a network of support around them.
For those currently living with families, it’s an alternative to a place in a residential care home.
In Portsmouth, there are 42 families supporting approximately 50 adults in this way. Up to 40 of those people are living with a family permanently.
The service also organises respite care and day care for those who don’t need to live with another family, but would benefit from spending time in someone else’s home.
Adult placement schemes like this aren’t new. Similar services have been run across the country since the late 1970s but the name was changed nationally to Shared Lives in 2008.
Carers can expect to receive between £250 and £360 a week, made up from the service user’s own contribution to rent, food and living costs – usually paid for out of their housing benefit – plus a wage of either £136.50 or £231 a week from the adult social care budget, depending on the level of care required.
Shared Lives carers have to be CRB checked and are entitled to respite breaks themselves. Once approved, they can care for up to a maximum of three people, to make sure the house doesn’t become like a small residential home and maintains that family feel.
On Saturday February 25, the team will hold a drop-in event at Southsea Library, Palmerston Road, from 12pm- 4pm.
The more people Donna and her team have at their disposal, the higher their chance of making a successful match between a family and an adult who needs help. As a result, they’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds.
Donna says they often hear from people who already have a background in care and want to give a more one-to-one experience to someone else.
‘It’s about feeling part of a family, not feeling you’ve got a replacement family,’ she adds. ‘The one thing we don’t want to do is make the natural family feel replaced in any way.
‘We don’t want people to think it’s like taking a child into your home – it’s an adult who needs support to be independent.’
With a tendency to bottle things up, Caroline Fellingham needs company, routine and a sense of security.
As an adult with learning disabilities, living unsupported on her own would have been a leap too far.
But moving in with Mark and Tara Clark has given her a new-found confidence that’s brought her happiness and stability.
Caroline has been sharing the couple’s Southsea home for the last three years.
No longer able to live with her mum, a residential placement was on the cards until she was matched with the Clarks.
With them she has her own room, goes to college during the week and enjoys shopping with Tara at the weekends.
The Clarks have been Shared Lives carers since 2000 after they heard an appeal for more people to come forward.
Tara, 43, had a background of working in care and 66-year-old Mark had no problem with opening the doors to their four-bedroom home. They and their daughter Chloe, 21, now share the house permanently with Caroline and another adult with needs.
And the family also provides day care for a man who visits them on Sundays for lunch and some company.
‘I thought “We can do that”,’ remembers Mark.
‘I really enjoy it. If I didn’t do this I’d just be a couch potato.’
He adds: ‘You’ve got to treat them as part of the family. Caroline really likes company. She’s got her own room upstairs but that’s just somewhere to put her head.
‘She doesn’t like being on her own. She’s got security now and she’s in a routine.’
After spending some time in respite, Shared Lives gave Caroline a chance to find the support she was looking for.
She still visits her mum and takes trips to see her dad but knows that she has a home waiting for her when she returns.
Tara in particular has been someone to confide in. And they help Caroline with day-to-day tasks like organising her money, filling in forms and cooking.
At the end of the day, every member of their family gathers to eat dinner together.
‘I get on really well with them,’ says Caroline. ‘If I wasn’t here I’d be living on my own but I probably wouldn’t be able to manage.’
Mark adds: ‘Caroline’s got a lot more confidence now, she really has.’
To find out more log on to sharedlivesplus.org.uk or portsmouth.gov.uk.
To talk to the Shared Lives team in Portsmouth, call (023) 9273 7106.