#AllTogetherNowWF – Claire

The COVID-19 has been a difficult time for everyone, but through it communities have come together and people have gone above and beyond to help those in need.

Waltham Forest staff are working hard to continue to work as best as they can throughout this crisis to support residents.

#AllTogetherNowWF showcases staff and residents alike who have gone above and beyond during this difficult time.

Claire HarrisonClick to get info

Claire is the Registered Manager of the Shared Lives Scheme. She started 27 years ago as a residential social worker in a residential home for people with learning disabilities, she moved on to work in day care and then qualified as a social worker and has been managing the Shared Lives service for 20 years

The scheme currently supports 27 carers and 31 service users across Waltham Forest and Redbridge, allowing residents with learning disabilities and other vulnerable adults to live within a family setting and engage in local communities.

How does the Shared Lives Service work?

Part of our work is to recruit and assess caring families with a spare room and capacity for one, or more vulnerable adults to live with them or give their own family a break from their caring role. We work closely with individuals and families to see what they want from life – shared goals that they can achieve. Some adults live long-term with their families, others use it as a stepping-stone to go on to more independent living.

How has your role and the service been affected by the current situation?

It’s a big challenge for service users, many of whom are autistic, and would expect certain routines and places they can visit to continue as normal. Churches, day centres, coffee shops and more have closed their doors – our carers have risen to the challenge providing as much stability as possible at an uncertain time.

Our carers have been following government advice on social distancing, handwashing and taking the issue very seriously. We have also had to factor in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) drop off across service areas, something we wouldn’t have done before.

How do you offer extra support to carers and individuals at this challenging time?

We are still working hard within our freedom of movement restrictions and understanding how this works for people with learning disabilities and other vulnerable adults. We want to continue supporting these individuals with their learning and to enrich their life experience. We’re focussing on keeping moral up and keeping people safe at home – we recently had a donation from Hotel Chocolate, and I dropped this off (safely) to carers to say thank-you personally.

Mental health is vital, and we have weekly check-ins with all our Shared Lives carers to check their wellbeing, moods and to share feedback with the rest of the team. Where we can offer safe or digital face-to-face contact, it’s always appreciated more than a phone call. We use Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom and webinar conference calls.

We have secured a behavioural psychologist to support carers who are working with people with learning disabilities who are finding lockdown particularly challenging. We have lots of Shared Lives resources that carers can tap into and foster a sense of community between us as a group. 

Also, we have been able to provide Shared Lives carers with a keyworker/critical worker letter so they can support the person placed with them to access their daily exercise, shopping etc.

What else has changed?

The rhythm of our calendar is disrupted but we still want to recognise the hard work that’s being done.

This June, we have National Shared Lives Week which may have to be postponed. It brings the Shared Lives community together to celebrate carers’ length of service and service users who have celebrated their own milestones within the Shared Lives scheme.

Last year, we hired a venue in Wanstead with DJ’s with learning disabilities and catering by an organisation that also employ people with learning disabilities. It was a joyful recognition of what we can all achieve together.

Do you have any learnings from this situation you can take forward within Shared Lives?

We were already a very close community. I’ve seen different legislation, people being moved from residencies, this is a unique challenge. I want to praise my carers who always carry on supporting people and keeping them safe, regardless of the challenges they face.

We are hoping as a scheme to embrace the local community that have volunteered during this time to consider the potential for them to become a Shared Live Carer for a vulnerable adult and welcome them into their families on a long, or short-term basis.

What do you love about your job?

I’ve enjoyed all my roles across the 27 years working in Waltham Forest, but particularly the Shared Lives Scheme. It began with just six carers and this has continued to grow. It’s a unique, vital service and I can’t see myself doing anything else, apart from supporting it to develop and grow even more!

Our carers are incredibly resilient – the length of time people settle for, in these homely environments is a testament to those with learning disabilities and other vulnerable adults enjoying their experiences and sharing their cultures. These families and the people they support and care for are incredible, and are all working hard to thrive, whatever life throws at them.

Thank you to all our adult social care staff for their dedication to supporting our vulnerable residents in Waltham Forest during this time.

Originally published by Waltham Forest