When Melissa Johnson decided to find out whether fostering was for her, she had no idea that Newcastle City Council's Supported Lodgings scheme would ultimately provide the perfect solution.
Offering accommodation and emotional support to young people between 16 and 21 wasn’t something the 36 year old teaching assistant from Newcastle had considered or even known was an option.
"I'd always thought about fostering but when I first investigated it, I was frightened by the prospect,” said Melissa.
“However when I talked to the team it became clear Supported Lodgings was something I could definitely do. I've had tenants in the past, which made it an obvious fit and I was immediately more comfortable with the idea.
“Since registering I've welcomed five young people into my home, including two staying with me right now. It’s gone extremely well and there’s plenty of support should I ever need it.
“The opportunity to help someone take their next steps in society is very special and I'd encourage others to consider it.”
Helping young people get a decent start
The Supported Lodgings Scheme aims to give young adults good quality accommodation together with the security and support that living with a responsible adult can offer.
There are lots of reasons why young people need Supported Lodgings. It could be that they've experienced a family breakdown or have recently left full-time care and are not ready to live on their own.
The scheme provides a stepping stone for young people to help them learn the skills to live independently.
All those potentially interested in offering Supported Lodgings have to provide is a spare room, two meals a day and some support according to the needs of each young person.
Stepping into that role is something Melissa has relished.
“I work in a primary school and was initially a bit daunted by the idea of taking in teenagers but it soon became clear there was nothing to be worried about.
“What these young people need in addition to somewhere to stay is a little help with life skills, which could be anything from cooking and ironing, to managing money and understanding how to vote. Dinnertime is certainly never boring - we have fantastic conversations ranging from zombies to new recipes and politics!
“The teenage boys I’ve had here can be great fun and the house is a lot more vibrant for having them around.”
Helping the helpers
At Newcastle City Council the support for those offering Supported Lodgings is wide ranging as Graham Clark, Senior Practitioner in the Fostering and Adoption team there explains.
“As well as a weekly financial allowance to cover the expenses of caring for a young person, professional help and advice is available through dedicated social workers and there is a 24 hour helpline to call if ever needed.
“Regular reviews are carried out so there is a continual dialogue taking place to ensure everyone is comfortable, each party is getting what they need, and that it's working well.
“We arrange training for all members of the household, monitor the placement and arrange for the young person to move on to independent living when it ends.
“Supported Lodgings really are a great way to help a 16-21 year olds take the next steps to being a fully fledged, independent adult.”
Melissa has certainly benefited from the clear direction available.
“Newcastle City Council’s fostering team gives you information about each young person before you welcome them in so you have an idea of who they are and what they need,” she said.
“You’re told if any agencies are involved outside of social workers so you know who else you’re dealing with. Basically you’re given everything you need to prepare accordingly and make the process as smooth as possible.”
A personal perspective
Supported Lodgings is certainly working for Martin, 19, who has been living with Melissa for the last 6 months.
Martin said: “I was placed with Melissa after my foster Mum and Dad moved to a bungalow due to ill health. While I had the chance to stay with them, Newcastle City Council were really helpful in outlining my options and supportive when I decided to take steps towards living on my own.
“This experience gives me the chance to enjoy living in my own place but I’ve company and help when I need it. I cook us all a meal a week and it’s great to chat to Melissa about anything bothering me.
“Thanks to a strong relationship with her and my social worker, I’m in a place I never thought I’d be and it’s great. I’m feeling much more confident about moving forwards in life.”