Room-to-Share

by Dr Bernie Fay, Head Social Worker, Sisters of Charity of Jesus & Mary/Muiríosa Foundation

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The Room-to-Share Scheme has been in operation since 1993 and provides longterm, full-time care in a host-family setting to people aged 18 years and over- The scheme is administered by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary/Muiríosa Foundation and is funded by the HSE. There are currently eight people availing of the scheme: eight in Westmeath, seven in Laois, four in Longford, and one in Offaly. The individuals placed through the scheme have varying levels of ability, from mild to severe, and the period they have spent with their host family varies from 17 years to just under one year.

Above: Brian with Bernie and Nicky Masterson

Selection and assessment of hosts

All the prospective host families are assessed by the social work department of the Sisters of Charity/Muiríosa Foundation. References are obtained and a Garda clearance is mandatory. Hosts undergo a short training programme on issues pertaining to disability. The person to be placed and their family are usually actively involved in the process of placement. This is a gradual process where the person gets to know his/her potential host over a period of time prior to going permanently to live with the new family. In some cases those placed already know those with whom they are going to live. Four of those placed have previously lived with their host family, from having been placed there for social reasons by the HSE when they were children. In those cases, the scheme has facilitated them in remaining with the same family with whom they have bonded over the years. In general, the scheme fosters long-term close relationships between those placed and their carers.

The following pen pictures describe some of those who participate in the scheme (real names have been changed).

John
John is 23. He has a severe physical disability and a moderate learning difficulty. He enjoys meeting people and chatting about his life. John is particularly interested in farming. He loves Westlife and likes to go swimming and bowling. At the age of three, he was taken into the care of the Health Board and as far as John is concerned, his Room-to-Share family are his mum and dad and siblings. Monday to Friday John attends a day service with a rich and varied programme. He enjoys this and also looks forward to going on holidays with his family. It is hoped that John will remain with his Room-to-Share family for the rest of his life, but his siblings have said that in the event that the Room-to-Share parents are not being able to care for him, they will carry on and look after him. John particularly enjoys being part of the local community in which he lives. He loves visiting the local farmers and being involved in whatever is happening on their farms.

Mary
Mary became a participant in the Room-to-Share scheme in 1992, owing to family breakdown. She is aged 34 and has a mild learning disability. In her Room-to-Share family there are three daughters whom she considers to be her sisters. She enjoys all family occasions including birthday parties, engagements and weddings. She considers her host carer to be her mother and feels a part of the family. She regularly goes to her aunt’s house for weekends, where she meets her cousins and likes going to concerts while there. Mary attends a day service Monday to Friday; she works under a supported employment scheme and also engages in socio-recreational activities. Mary sometimes becomes sad that her family of origin split up and she receives counselling and support to help her through any difficult times.

Patrick
Patrick, who is aged 58, has arrested hydrocephalus and spina bifida. He was an only child and his parents died when he was quite young. He was always very close to his Room-to-Share family who were neighbours and he went to live with them after his parents died. When younger, Patrick was an avid reader and had a wide range of interests, including drama and music. Unfortunately, in recent years a decline in his heath has made engagement in these activities more difficult. Patrick has an outreach worker and loves accompanying her to concerts, lunches and group activities with the Irish Wheelchair Association.

Lucy and Veronica
These two women are in their fifties and have been living with their host family for the past four years. They were formerly residents in a large residential centre and have been close, life-long friends. They left the residential centre to spend a weekend with their host family and never went back. Their host family is large with many children and grandchildren. Lucy and Veronica enjoy the hustle and bustle that this involves.

Juliet
‘My name is Juliet Doyle. I am 30 years old and I came to live with my new family for a month’s trial. I was delighted by the look of their house. This made me feel more comfortable. I was worried about the big step I was taking, meeting strange people and thinking about living with them. I was going to try it for a month to see how I got on.’

A crisis in Juliet’s family, following the sudden death of a beloved parent brought her to the Room-to-Share Scheme. At the time she was a student in the vocational school. It quickly became obvious that she needed more structure and support than had been available to her.

‘That was on 13 April 1996. I am still living with the same family. I moved from school to NDTI and after 3 years there, with my host’s help, I got myself a good job. I really appreciate all the help I got from my family; I would not be where I am today without their help.’

Robbie
I am 22 years of age and came to live with my family when I was 6 weeks old. I call Liz and Joe, Mammy and Daddy. I have three foster sisters. I would like to say I have Down syndrome.’
Fostering comes to an end when a person turns 18. Robbie wanted to stay with his foster family, so they decided to become part of the Room-to-Share Scheme. Robbie has just finished a two-year course at NLN and is looking for a job. He has sent off 14 CVs, but so far he has not heard anything back. His family encourages Robbie because they know what a good worker he is. He has now started to attend Rehabcare for 2 days a week while he is waiting for work. The family continues to support Robbie and they are very proud of the young man he has become.

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