Shared Lives Plus

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About the parenting project

With two years’ funding from the Rayne Foundation, Shared Lives Plus has led a project to develop Shared Lives services for parents with a learning disability. The goal was to enable them to live well and care for their children by sharing home-and family life with a Shared Lives carer, with whom they were carefully matched.

Shared Lives for parents is a flexible, person-centred model that offers holistic support, with parents being supported to develop community links and access independent advocacy. It operates in a way that is consistent with the established principles of Good Practice Guidance on working with Parents with a Learning Disability.

The need

It is estimated there are between 25,000 and 250,000 parents with learning disabilities in the UK. Parents with learning disabilities are more likely to

  • live in poverty
  • be isolated and victimised
  • experience literacy and communication difficulties
  • have experienced poor models of parenting
  • have difficult relationship histories
  • and not have access to accessible birth control information and services.

The children of parents with a learning disability are more likely than any other group of children to be removed from their parents’ care: 40-60% of parents with learning disabilities will have their children removed.

There is often an assumption that parents with learning disabilities will neglect their children, but there is no evidence for this. Indeed, research demonstrates that parents with learning disabilities can successfully raise their children if support matches their needs.

What is Shared Lives for parents?

In Shared Lives, a person who needs support moves into the carer’s own home either for short breaks or long-term as a place to settle and feel they belong. Key to the success of all arrangements is the careful recruitment and matching processes, carried out by a regulated local Shared Lives scheme, which involves all parties in a personalised decision-making process.

Through Shared Lives, parents with learning disabilities can receive holistic, non-judgemental support within normal family homes. The parent who needs support can visit their Shared Lives carer’s home for short breaks or day support, or move in with them, sharing family and community life. The careful matching helps ensure compatibility, trust and the stability of the relationship. The service is flexible, and can be a long-term arrangement or a stepping-stone to independent living.

Unlike in parent and child fostering, the Shared Lives carer does not have parental responsibility for the child. Rather, their role is to enable the parent to care for their child. Shared Lives carers have the time necessary to support adults with Learning Disabilities to learn new information and parenting skills; and they can support the parent to identify and build on their strengths.

The person needing support has the opportunity to experience positive role-modelling of family life and receive practical support at all stages of their child’s development in order to work towards an independent life. The goal is to enable parents to gain confidence and build their own community links, to ensure they will be able to support their child longer-term.

“Susan is an amazing lady and anyone living with Susan will be lucky. I can’t thank her enough for what she has done for me and my daughter. It’s been like living with family [...] My future is focused on being a good mum and watching her grow into an adult enjoying life and living as a normal family.[...]”

- Marie, Shared Lives South West

The impact

Schemes that offer parent and child arrangements report successful outcomes for the individuals involved, with families being supported to remain together and, in some cases, to move to independence. Examples of positive outcomes include:

  • The child continuing to live with their parent
  • The child being taken off the child protection register
  • The parent being supported to develop their own community links
  • Improved attachment and relationships between parent(s) and child(ren)
  • Growth in parents’ confidence and parenting skills
  • Improvement in the family’s housing and financial situation
  • Crisis avoidance

“It’s wonderful to see Abby not only grow as a mum, but her personal growth too. She will now stand up for herself and say how she feels which is important. She is also looking to the future and would like to volunteer or work now Isabella is at nursery more. Abby is part of our family and we embrace life together. ”

- Mel, Shared Lives carer, Shared Lives South West


The cost of a Shared Lives arrangement depends on the level of care and support required, and the scheme’s banding criteria, but is typically in the range of £500-£900 per week. An independent evaluation found that for every £1 spent on Shared Lives parenting arrangements the return on investment was £1.80. It concludes this is likely a conservative estimate as without Shared Lives the parents might have required additional social and practical support.