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Making Shared Lives care inclusive and diverse

Shared Lives scheme practice

This is the first of a series on Shared Lives schemes’ work on inclusion and diversity. Here we talk to Andy Harvey, Waltham Forest about his experience of increasing diversity in Shared Lives schemes.

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“I’ve worked in four schemes across London, and we’ve actually had quite a diverse staff group – around gender, race; they reflected the local communities. But the perception of the Shared Lives service changed when our publicity materials changed; potential Shared Lives carers could relate to individuals in Shared Lives and that was really important.

Recruiting and assessing Shared Lives carers

“Shared Lives is one of the most diverse forms of social care services there is, and we bring people together for their similarities – and differences. This runs through the service right from the start. When people applied, straight away you asked questions about people’s race and culture, as it is an essential part of who they are as a person, and for our own records on numbers across the service. When we did the assessment we put emphasise on differences that we have, and things that we have in common. You’re adding to the melting pot and you widen the experience of potential carers and people they could be matched with.

Identifying the gap in diversity

One of three stories I think about where we were lacking in diversity is an example from when I worked for Shared Lives in North London. We had big Greek Cypriot community locally, but no Greek carers.

It was a large community, so we knew they were there from everyday life. Then when we looked at our scheme data and knowing our carers, we knew they weren’t being represented in the scheme.

What did you do about it?

I did a job share for six years and recruited a Greek speaking job share. Immediately it opened up Shared Lives to that community to understand what we were looking for. Just by having someone who spoke that language, we could then talk to families, friends and it made it more accessible to a whole new community of people.

With the Jewish Orthodox community, I was speaking to a Rabbi, and he hadn’t heard of Shared Lives and he said they would always want to place someone from their community within their community. So it was really important to recruit carers from that community so they could support each other. If people say, ‘you don’t represent what we want’, we have to see if we can change by building relationships with leaders of different communities.

I know in other times people have been matched together with different faiths, and that’s made it richer for them too.

We had to change some of our outlook to welcome LGBTQI carers into Shared Lives. We also didn’t have any gay carers, and when we recruited someone who identified as LGBT, we did find that more gay people applied to be carers. I can’t say there’s a link, but it might have been hidden messages that we were putting out – whether we knew it or not. It’s really important in recruitment and publicity that we have a diverse set of pictures, and that as teams, we weren’t just sitting in the office, but out looking for key people in those community groups and learning from their experiences.

What would you recommend to other Shared Lives services who want to increase their diversity?

You can also look at the local authority website and what support groups are listed, see what people are doing on zoom sessions, look at Eventbrite locally and then ask to talk about Shared Lives. Find your community newsletters and look through that. It’s just about starting a relationship and finding out if there are other groups you could be introduced to.

Shared Lives Plus are committed to inclusion and diversity and share best practice from our members so we can increase diversity in all aspects of shared living. If you are interested, please email and find out more about our equalities network