SHARED LIVES

Reviewed by Michelle O’Reilly

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This book has been written by three highly.regarded professionals whose experiences and expertise have been combined to create an essential guide for any social care professional who is interested in creating an inclusive and truly person-centred service.

Briefly taking in the historical aspects of social care service provision, the authors look at how practice has evolved to encompass the individual (as opposed to the service as a whole), and how we can continue to progress, to ensure positive relationships can be built and sustained.

When exploring the relationships that people with an intellectual disability experience, the book focuses not just on paid supporters and families, but also on volunteers and community members. It quickly becomes clear that the relationships between all of these groups benefit not only the person with an intellectual disability, but that they are mutually beneficial to all those involved. Whether the experiences we have in relationships are positive or negative, there is an element of learning or gain for all of us.

Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of an individual’s intellectual disability, and how their lack of physical, social or communication skills could be a barrier to forming meaningful relationships, the writers encourage us to embrace the unique gifts each individual has to offer each other and their community. The book includes real examples of relationship experiences, both positive and negative, showing the joy that can be experienced, as well as the challenges of maintaining them. The natural cycle of relationships— including loss, change and ending—acknowledges the reality of negative emotions that can be experienced. Again practical examples show that by planning for these changes or losses the people we support can not only learn acceptance, but display a significant level of understanding or maturity.

Naturally, a book written about the development or relationships also includes a chapter on the often taboo subject of intimate relationships that may develop from friendships. This is approached with the same equality as all other relationships, and acknowledges the negative attitudes people can have with regards to ‘vulnerable people’ being involved in such relationships. However, the reality of how the people we support may feel is acknowledged, as is our duty of care to support people to experience such relationships in a safe, and consensual manner.

‘Bringing people together’ and making a commitment to build a community of valued, fully inclusive relationships is no small task. The latter half of this book very much focuses on the crucial roles of paid supporters and organisations in achieving this. A practical guide to building networks of support, partnerships, peer groups and activity groups provides real examples of how these can be developed, and also the challenges that may arise. The dynamics of teamwork, communication, goals and expectations, and motivation are all addressed, as is the acknowledgement of the challenges in achieving and sustaining such relationships and groups. Risk assessments are discussed in a practical and realistic way, encouraging ‘balanced judgment’, inclusion and capacity analysis when approaching such decisions, whilst acknowledging the dilemmas faced by all involved.

By the end of this book the reader can see that as a society we are already on our way to achieving many of the types of relationships discussed—as is highlighted in the testimonies given. We feel positive in our commitment to understand the ‘human need’ for relationships and to realise the development of these. However, as is also shown, people have tried in the past to make a difference and as society has progressed these differences have sometimes been swallowed in political change or events. We are made aware that rather than try to change all the problems we are faced with, or become frustrated with the pace of this change, we should remember the ‘individual’ and allow ourselves the opportunity to embrace the small changes that can make a big difference.

Shared lives is a refreshingly positive and hopeful book, particularly in the current social/political climate in which we can become discouraged or disillusioned. However, the practical, real-life testimonies in the book remind us that we can make a difference, and we are motivated to want to do so. This is a guidebook for anyone with an interest in changing the face of social care; I would thoroughly recommend it as an essential addition to any reference shelf.

SHARED LIVES: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AND COMMUNITY WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES¸ by Roy McConkey, John Dunne and Nick Blitz. 2009. Sense Publishers, Rotterdam. ISBN 9789087909413 (also in paperback)