A teenager who was saved from a possible life on the streets because of the love of her pet pup is sharing her story to make other young people aware of the help available to them.
Shannon Finnigan, 18, who lives in Houghton, endured a difficult childhood after her dad died. From five years old she found herself in and out of care without ever being able to settle, eventually becoming estranged from her birth mother.
After moving around the country, Shannon finally ended up sharing a flat with a friend in Sunderland, but because the landlord wouldn’t allow pets she was forced to give her pet puppy Peanut – a constant companion – to friends.
Shannon was so unhappy without Peanut she could see no other option but to live on the streets where she could be reunited with her pet.
However, Shannon’s social worker stepped in and recommended she try Supported Lodgings. The scheme, run by Together for Children, provides accommodation for young people, aged 16 to 21, looking for a place to live. As someone who had previously been in care, Shannon was eligible.
As her situation was urgent, she was quickly matched with Paul and Lorraine Finnigan, from Houghton, who had signed up to the scheme offering a room in their home for a young person in need. Shannon and Peanut have now lived happily with Paul, and Lorraine, for almost a year, becoming part of the family.
Shannon, who now works full time as a trainee carer, said: “At first I didn’t like the idea of moving in with a family. I didn’t think I would be able to function in a family setting, but I decided to give it a go. I felt like they were just doing a job letting me stay and I didn’t think I’d be there long at all, but it was a better option than the street.
“But I’ve fitted in with the family more than any of us ever thought. I’ve even changed my last name so I can be a Finnigan. They are the most amazing family and I’m the most settled I’ve ever been in my life.
“I’d totally recommend Supported Lodging to other young people who have been in care and aren’t sure where to turn. It couldn’t have worked out any better for me.”
Lorraine, who signed up to the Supported Lodging scheme after a short time fostering her nephew, said: “We hadn’t even met Shannon, but we said yes to taking her in when we heard about how she was so desperate to keep Peanut. We just knew that someone who would fight that much for her pet would be someone we could open our door to.
“We had some difficult times at first while we all got used to being together, I’m sure Shannon would agree, but that is outweighed so much by the rewards. We all bonded quite quickly, which I think we were all surprised by, and now she calls myself and Paul ‘mam and dad’ and we’ve even been on a family holiday.
“It has been fantastic to see her grow and flourish while she’s been living with us. We’re so proud of what she’s achieved in such a short time and it’s been great to be able to offer guidance and support.”
While Supported Lodging only officially offers young people homes up to the age of 21, the arrangements have worked out so well that Paul and Lorraine are happy for Shannon to stay as long as she wants as she’s become part of the family.
Laura Mills, supported lodgings manager at Together for Children, said: “Like Shannon, many young people leaving care find it difficult to move on to full independence straight away and supported lodging provides a stepping-stone, giving young people the chance to learn how to live independently in the supportive environment of a family home.
“Placement length varies and can be anything from a few months to two years. It really depends on the young person and the family. Some young people become part of the family like Shannon, others prefer a bit more independence and move on when they’re ready. Likewise, some families prefer to have shorter-term arrangements so they can maintain some flexibility.”
Families who offer Supported Lodging are reimbursed financially for the extra expense of having a young person in their home and are also given support and guidance from Together for Children throughout the placement.
Laura added: “It can feel a bit scary at first when you decide to open up your home to a young person and sometimes placements don’t work out as well as Shannon’s has, but we offer support throughout the process. The young people and the families can pick up the phone with any problems they come across and we’re on hand to help.”
Together for Children are open to applications for the Supported Lodgings scheme from all walks of life, but to be eligible the family must have a spare room available.
To find out more about Together for Children’s Supported Lodging scheme visit https://togetherforchildren.org.uk/children-and-young-people/supported-lodgings