Call for Leeds residents to open up their homes to vulnerable adults and offer 'critical' respite for city's unpaid carers
Council chiefs have issued a “desperate” plea for people to step forward and open up their homes to vulnerable adults and help give the city’s army of informal carers a much-needed break.
The pool of carers which currently offers respite through Leeds City Council’s Shared Lives Carers scheme has fallen to a record low in its 40-plus year history.
Just 45 people are currently registered as willing to take in a vulnerable adult for an overnight stay or short break across the entire city - far lower than the scheme’s highs in previous years of up to 110 people.
Now, with carers and those they care for having coped with the isolating conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic - with many having had to shield during that time - having a large pool of potential respite ‘Shared Lives Carers’ is needed more than ever to give them that all-important break.
This week sees the launch of a national recruitment drive for the Shared Lives Carers scheme in a bid to drive up numbers - and comes at a "critical" time for this city which has an estimated 74,000 unpaid carers.
Indi Matharu, service leader for the council’s Shared Lives Carers scheme, said: “This would be the lowest pool we have ever had, definitely.
“We have always had a demand for the service which is why we are in desperate need for new carers to be recruited for short breaks.”
Anyone over 18 with a spare bedroom can apply to be a Shared Lives Carer - a paid role, with earnings based on overnight stays and complexity of the service user - and no prior experience is needed as full training is given.
Indy said the service continued as much as it could during the pandemic - offering phone calls to its service users if restrictions, shielding or fear over transmission risks meant overnight stays could not go ahead.
But for a service that works to prevent “carer crisis and breakdowns”, staff were all too aware of the effect it was having on carers and those they care for.
“In an environment where everyone was in their home and in isolation - they needed that break from supporting that person with a disability.
“We continued to offer that support and offer that lifeline. Our Shared Lives Carers would often ring and have a conversation or do activities where they could, in line with restrictions.
“But lots of carers spend the pandemic without that respite whatsoever.”
Indi said the need to recruit is now “very very critical”.
“We know that Leeds has a huge proportion of informal carers.
“We have a lot of carers that are needing service and support and we are one of the city’s services that provide that to them.
“And being able to remain a sustainable service will have a huge impact on the caring responsibilities of carers.”
Each carer is carefully matched with a service user - adults with physical or sensory impairments, learning difficulties and older people - and can choose how much or how little they want to work as a carer that year.
“It’s a fantastic service. It’s flexible - a lot of our carers do maintain other roles or work while doing Shared Lives Care. People do it because they want to give back to the community and some do it for the additional income coming in.
“It provides amazing support, it’s relationship-based. We have had customers matched for 15-20 years.
“It’s like a home away from home for the customers that we support, allowing them to have an environment where they feel comfortable, cared for but most importantly they develop relationships and companionships.”
Indi says while more traditional residential respite services can often be quite “daunting” to those with learning difficulties, Shared Lives Carers offers a more tailored “one to one” service which can be at a pace that’s comfortable - with the service user having final say on whether to go ahead with their “match”.
She admitted it’s not for everyone but for those who take part, it can be a very “rewarding” job.
“It is niche. You would need to be interested in supporting someone and waiting to open up your home, which we appreciate would be difficult for some people to do.
“But you would be fully supported, you don’t need previous experience or background. Just a willingness to be able to support vulnerable adults and do a little bit really to prevent the challenges for the people that are caring.”
Councillor Fiona Venner, executive member for adult and children's social care & health partnerships said: “Shared Lives carers play a pivotal role in our city, helping support adults and providing relief for full time carers. We are always looking for more extraordinary people to join our Shared Lives community and I would encourage anyone interested to get in touch to discuss this role further.
“I would also like to thank all the existing Shared Lives Carers for the brilliant work they do, which makes a real difference to our communities.”
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