One of the key roles of Jennie’s Circle has been supporting her (and me for that matter) in her transition to independent living. To help think and plan for her future. With Jennie gradually becoming more adult, we had to face the agonising decision about when she would leave the family home and begin a more independent life. Where would she live? How could we put the right support in place for her? Would she cope? It was time for some serious soul-searching for me and time to learn what personal budgets could offer.

I had always thought Jennie would stay living at home immediately after she finished at the Russell Centre, but it was around that time that we noticed her behaviour was changing and that she was choosing not to spend as much time around us. She was growing more independent and I began to seriously consider, probably for the first time, the possibility of her living away from home in the near future. It had always felt like something that would happen but only when she was much older.

The ways things were at home – with Jennie striving to do more without me, made me think perhaps it would be alright to ‘let Jennie go’ sooner. I raised it at the next Circle of Support meeting which was a bit of a bombshell for the others. It was very emotional for me but everyone agreed that it wouldn’t change anything we had been planning apart from where Jennie lived and it was something we should explore.

Moving into her own home was never going to be a decision Jennie could make completely on her own because she would never have been able to understand what it would mean. But with her best interests at heart, knowing what was important to her and with good planning, support and preparation we could make it work for Jennie. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was the right thing to do but I had to keep reminding myself of this as it was the hardest decision I had made in my life.

So at the Circle meetings we started to work out how to move ahead with a personal budget so that we could find Jennie the right place to live, and support her to have the life she wanted. Personal budgets were a relatively new idea then, whereby social services give a budget to a family or individual to buy in the support they need themselves. It’s very different from using one of their services as it puts the person in control but it can also bring the stress of managing a care package on behalf of someone.

For several reasons I didn’t want to manage a team of support staff on Jennie’s behalf. I had a very busy job myself and I was often working away so I didn’t want the responsibility; what would I do if someone phoned in sick at 7am, where would I get staff from at that time? Also, I wanted to be Jennie’s Mum, not someone who managed her staff with all the responsibilities, possible problems, paperwork and so on. How can you be impartial with staff when they are caring for your daughter?

I was absolutely sure the best thing to do for Jennie would be to commission a service from a provider rather than take her personal budget as a direct payment and this is what we did. When you use a personal budget with a chosen service provider it is called an Individual Service Fund. It means that the money is held by the provider on Jennie’s behalf but that Jennie still decides what to spend her money on. The provider is accountable to Jennie and must only spend her money on her service.

Without the Circle of Support, this would have been far more difficult. Being able to learn from the experience of others and share knowledge about how personal budgets and individual service funds actually work enabled us to make Jennie’s move into her own home a reality.

Suzie and Helen have recently written a book sharing Jennie’s transition journey and her Circle of Support which you can read more about here.

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