Lauren's story May 2012
The moment when a child leaves home is a significant time for families. It will be mixed with a sense of excitement, sadness and some trepidation. When the child in question has epilepsy, special needs and severe learning disabilities, those emotions are magnified.
Until recently Sue Smith lived in Tower Hamlets, London, with her two daughters Lauren, 19, and Chloe 13. In the summer of 2009 Lauren left home. She's now living at Foxley Lane, a specialist service for adults with epilepsy and intense support needs run by Independence Homes.
"It's been a miracle", said Sue, "within just a few weeks of Lauren arriving at Foxley Lane she has settled in fantastically. It has been a godsend for us all. I can't tell you how relieved we are."
The Smith's story began 19 years ago when Lauren was born. The birth was far from straightforward, and Lauren was tube fed for the first few days of her life. Those early concerns seemed to be passing though, until Lauren was about six months old. Both mother Sue and Lauren's GP had concerns which led to a referral to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. There it became evident that Lauren was facing some major challenges, and she was diagnosed with global neurological developmental delay.
Febrile convulsions followed, and as Lauren grew older, she began having epileptic seizures and her cognitive delay became more apparent. Sue was keen for Lauren to attend mainstream school, but it became clear that this was not a solution for Lauren, who was eventually educated at Beatrice Tate School, a specialist school for children whose educational needs cannot be met in a mainstream setting.
Meanwhile, Sue had another daughter, Chloe, now aged 13. As Lauren approached the school's leaving age of 19, mother Sue started to contemplate future options for her daughter, who needs high levels of care and support, and has very limited communication skills. She wasn't thrilled by the idea of residential care for Lauren, but realised this was likely to be the most realistic option for the entire family.
Sue liaised with the school's transition officer and quite naturally she reviewed the choices to make the best possible decision for Lauren. When she heard about Independence Homes, she was extremely interested to find out more. Lauren joined Foxley Lane in July 2009. Sue expected it to take many months before Lauren would be settled at the seven bedroomed house, but has been amazed at the speed and success of the transition.
"Frankly I could not have designed a better service myself. I feel so at ease with it all." says Sue. "Lauren may be a young adult of 19, but she is totally dependent. That's a huge worry for a parent. But the atmosphere at the place is great. The staff are young and vibrant, and the manager is so warm and welcoming. They always seem happy to see me, and nothing is ever any trouble for them.
Chloe loves to visit her sister, it's not easy having siblings with demanding special needs, but it helps that Lauren is happy. She may not be able to talk, but you can see when she's happy. She laughs, and those who know her can see the subtle signals which show she is happy. They go out a lot too, which is so important.
Foxley Lane is a fabulous place. I cannot say enough about Independence Homes. It's the very opposite of an Institution, which is the last place on earth I would want Lauren to be. It's so friendly and warm. More than anything, it's a home."