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Home sharing brings respite and friendship

Eighteen years of opening her home to children and adults with special needs has brought immense joy to Sligo based Helena Ryan.

Families across the north-west like Helena’s have been hosting people with a disability or autism as part of the Home Sharing Scheme since 1985.

Helena and her husband Chris first began providing respite when they took Michael, a friend’s child who was born with Down Syndrome, to give his mum a much-needed rest.  Eighteen years later, they still have a very close relationship with Michael and his family and he comes to stay with them regularly.

“We absolutely love taking Michael to stay with us. He really is part of our family and our four children see him as a brother from another mother,” said Helena.

“We had him for a week when his parents went away to Lanzarote and we all had such a lovely week together. He is so comfortable here and we just love having him here.”

Helena and Chris have been providing both day and overnight placements for both children and adults. She has many years of professional experience and voluntary experience of caring for people with disabilities.

“Being a host family for someone with disability has had a very positive effect on my own children. We always taught them to take the ‘DIS’ away and just see the ability. Our guest lights up any room and we love when they come to visit,” she said.

Beatrice Gallagher, another host, told a recent information evening about the scheme that she thoroughly enjoys sharing her home.

“For the host it is very worthwhile. You get to know somebody with a disability and you also make friends with their families,” she said.
Guest Ali McNabb spoke of how she likes the break and she also spoke very positively about her experiences with her host family.

Edel Hannon, who had availed of Home Sharing Scheme for 15 years, spoke about what is was like from their point of view to be part of the scheme:  “My host’s son has special needs, I have learned sign language so I can talk to him. Their dog always comes to meet me when I come to the door. Our families have become friends,” she explained.

Her mum Catherine said she takes part in the scheme to give Edel a change of scenery: “Edel has a wonderful woman looking after her for the past 15 years, Sadie. She goes to her one day a week and really looks forward to it. She has a whole other life there with Sadie – lots of friends and people that treat her as their family. She likes to go to the bingo with Sadie and they also go for lots of walks around the area. It’s fantastic to know she is so loved there,” said Catherine.

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Hosts Sadie and Bill McCafferty with guest Ali McNabb

Bernie Donaghy, Disability service Manager Sligo/Leitrim said, “It is great when we have families willing to volunteer to become hosts. If you are not working in a caring profession people don't always see the skills they have. We are hoping to grow this project''

The Home Sharing Scheme is a flexible short break scheme facilitated by the HSE in Sligo and Leitrim. It involves caring for and sharing your home.   Host families or Host Carers offer a variety of break options including a morning, afternoon or day per week;  a night per week or per month; a weekend per month; a longer break during holiday periods.

Cllr Rosaleen O'Grady, Chair of Regional Health Forum West, said, “In 1985 when this scheme began, services were very innovated in connecting people with a disability with the community. I see the scheme now as a way of extending friendships within the community and a way to make new friends.

“Having worked with in the services I know the value of respite.  I would like to commend my ex-colleagues on the work they do, being innovative, leading out and providing this service.”

Ali Crowe, Home Share social worker, explained all the great aspects of the scheme: “Home Sharing is a very positive scheme to be part of. Being a host is very worthwhile and rewarding. The guests get to develop new relationships and meet new people at the same time their full time carers get a break,” she said.
The Home Sharing Scheme welcomes all people from all walks of life. No formal qualifications are required. Currently the hosts consist of people who are working, retired, unemployed, with or without children, single, married, or with a partner.  
To become a host family or host carer, simply contact a member of the Home Share Team. The Home Sharing social worker will discuss the scheme in more detail. Training in all aspects of care and support will be provided and host families or host carers will have an opportunity to meet with others that are part of the Home Sharing Scheme.

The Home Sharing Scheme is a voluntary scheme with a contribution made to cover expenses that may be incurred. These details will be provided to host families or host carer on enquiry or during the training period.
For more information please contact: Ali Crowe Bergin or Eleanor Gallagher, HSE Disability Services, Sligo/Leitrim 086-4634973/ 087-1150044.