How the Shared Lives carer scheme is transforming the lives of young disabled adults in Chesterfield

Rebecca Challands and Emily Goddard.
Rebecca Challands and Emily Goddard.

Could you open up your home to give a young adult with a disabilities a shot at leading an ordinary life in the community?

Derbyshire County Council’s Shared Lives scheme offers over 18s the chance to move in with a carer to share their family life for a long-term arrangement, short break or day care.

Carlene Poynton and Dorothy Miller.

Carlene Poynton and Dorothy Miller.

Now the authority is encouraging more people to share their lives with an older person, an adult with learning or physical disabilities, mental ill health or younger, vulnerable people leaving children’s support services.

The scheme has already seen success in Chesterfield.


Dorothy Miller began looking after Carlene Poynton when she was just 11-years-old.

But when it was time for her to leave foster care she couldn’t bear to see her go so Dorothy, 58, became a Shared Lives carer instead and Carlene has now been part of her family for 25 years.

Dorothy said: “My mum had been a foster carer so I became one because I thought I couldn’t have children.

“But then I got pregnant. My fist daughter was about nine months old when Carlene first came to live with us.

“She stayed with us for a few months and she was due to go back to live with her family, but her mum died suddenly.

“Carlene wanted to be part of a family so she stayed with me.

“It was hard work but I couldn’t imagine a time without her. She has just always been part of our family.

“When Carlene reached the age to leave foster care I knew that her life would be completely different – and not necessarily in a good way.

“So I became a shared lives carer which meant she could stay with us, which is what she wanted, as the positive sides to her life are with this family.”

And single mum Dorothy feels the experience has been positive for her own two daughters.

“They have grown up with Carlene so they haven’t known anything different. It has taught them that people with disabilities are no different to anyone else,” she added.

Carleen, who has cerebral palsy and is registered blind, loves family life with Dorothy, who she calls ‘mum’ and her two ‘sisters’.

“I love everything about living here and wanted to be with her more than anyone else,” said Carlene.

Head of year at a local secondary school, Dorothy says being a Shared Lives carer hasn’t stopped her from working full-time.

She said: “Carlene is very independent and she comes and goes as she pleases.

“She has a personal assistant who helps her go to the gym and my sister takes her swimming.

“Sometimes we’ll do things as a family. Carlene will organise meals for the whole family – and I have a large family.”

Carlene added: “It isn’t always easy. I phone where we are going to eat and then I phone everyone to see if they can come but have to change plans because everyone is working.”

Dorothy says the support from her Shared Lives social worker has been invaluable as she feels she can call on him for help if needed.

She added: “I’m not saying it is easy but if you want to help someone in a positive way then I’d say: ‘Go for it.’”


Being a Shared Lives carer runs in the family for Emily Goddard.

So when the former retail manager was looking for a better work/life balance after having her daughter Ivy, five she decided to give it a go.

She said: “My auntie has been a Shared Lives carer for many years and her daughters - my cousins - also became Shared Lives carers after having their children so I have always been used to it. My mum was also a carer so there’s a history of caring in my family.

“My husband Dave and I talked it over and we decided to look in to it.

“It is very rewarding – in fact I think it is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do.

“The fact that I can work from home and can look after Ivy so I don’t need childcare or after school care is a real bonus.

“Often people who decide to become Shared Lives carers have already had their own families, and their children are now grown up.

“However it is definitely a career that works with a young family too and I think for the service user, sharing their life with a young family can have so many benefits.

“I get loads of support from my Shared Lives social worker and the allowances are good,” said the 33-year-old who is expecting her second child in August.

Emily recently moved to Derbyshire from Warwickshire where she had been a Shared Lives carer for two years and she now provides a permanent home to Rebecca Challands.

The 18-year-old, who was brought up by her grandparents, now has her own room in Emily’s light and airy rented home in Holmewood near Chesterfield.

Emily added: “There’s something about extending your family and having people living here and sharing a life together. It’s a busy household but we love it.

“Often people are put off because they think they have to support them every minute of every day but that isn’t the case.

“We still get time as a family ourselves as Becky likes her own space in her bedroom so Dave and I get time for our own family as well.

“Becky is happy to stay at home on her own for periods of time so we’re able to get out and about as a family too.

“Carers are also entitled to four weeks paid respite a year to allow everybody a break.”

For Rebecca it means gaining new skills, trying new things and cooking for the first time. She’s even developed a love of shopping - something she had never liked doing before.

“This is my own home forever. I love living here,” she said.

Rebecca goes to college four days a week but on her Friday off, Rebecca and Emily spend the day together – they call it Rebecca’s Well-being Day

Rebecca added: “We have been in to town together, doing some cooking, shopping, making my bed and cleaning my room.”

Emily is passionate about helping Rebecca blossom to lead a fulfilling, independent life – so much so she’s planning on offering a Shared Lives home to another person.

“I treat Becky as an adult and I can help promote her independence and encourage her to do more things for herself like making a hot drink, doing household chores and cooking.

“Also encouraging her to have more access to the local community and seeing her confidence grow day by day is wonderful.

“I love the fact that you are making a difference to people’s lives and helping them achieve their goals,” she said.


Across Derbyshire, there are around 76 Shared Lives arrangements offering a safe, supportive home to an adult who needs extra support.

Councillor Jean Wharmby, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for Adult Care, said: “Our Shared Lives carers do an amazing job.

“They give adults with learning disabilities a life – not a service – which allows them to thrive and do all the things we take for granted in a safe environment with support when they need it.

“I’d urge more people to consider becoming a Shared Lives carer and changing someone’s life.”

There is no upper age restriction on becoming a Shared Lives carer although you have to be over 18.

People can come from all backgrounds- working, unemployed or retired.

They can become a carer regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

They don’t need to own their home but they need to be patient with a stable home life, flexible and willing to learn.

Full training is provided and support is on hand. Carers are paid depending on the type of support they offer.

Shared Lives is registered with the Care Quality Commission and carers are assessed and approved.

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