As someone of Italian heritage, supporting and caring for immediate and wider family members has always been a part of my life and, no doubt because it is Carers Week, it’s been at the forefront of my mind more than usual.
My grandparents were cared for by my parents and my mother cared for my dad who developed a degenerative life limiting illness. My mother also spent much of her time caring for her grandchildren and nieces and their grandchildren! Now, she too is receiving care and support from her own children and grandchildren.
In addition, she has the ongoing support of the local health and social care team for older people. This support ranges from practical help, including provision of timely and relevant information and advice, through to psychosocial and emotional services. This can include counselling and systemic family work with the individual and their care network.
Timing is everything. Many carers have told me that good social workers always know when to suggest options. They will know when to float the idea of practical assistance and/or having a break. Likewise, well-timed empathic responses can give a person motivation to keep going and sustain hope for the future. It’s an approach that really makes a difference.
As social workers, we frequently encounter families where one or more members have caring responsibilities for a parent or sibling. More generally, we witness their stress and worry. Not only are they trying to maintain health and harmony in their own homes, they are also juggling work or school with the health and care needs of relatives or dependents who may not even live with them.
We get alongside carers to truly understand what matters to them and their loved ones. Only then can we be a bridge between them and the agencies and professionals they rely on for support.
We must advocate on their behalf and advise them in ways which are enabling and empowering. It's a real skill and one that social workers have trained for and do well.
What is becoming increasingly clear, as the nation’s population ages and diversifies, is that caring is already an intrinsic part of family and community life. It is not a passing trend! It is imperative that social workers recognise the value of caring and the challenges it places on friends and family.
Many may not have expected to be in a caring situation so early in life or to such an overwhelming degree (e.g. caring for older and younger members of the family).
It should be no surprise then that social workers’ empathic communication and relationship building skills are qualities needed now more than ever. Coupled with their legal literacy and ability to applying statutory requirements which recognise the needs of individuals and carers within their social contexts, hopefully means that many more carers will experience the very best support.
Social workers also look outside domestic settings to the communities where individuals and families live and encourage local businesses and charities to build ‘carer friendly communities’.
They are increasingly involved in community outreach, helping identify, nurture and encourage local support networks and making sure the people we are helping can access them.
This outreach includes statutory health and care services, as well as more informal neighbourhood arrangements. Together, they can help combat those feelings of isolation and lack of support many carers experience.
Making sure carers feel valued and supported by those around them is a vital component of good practice. In this regard, carer friendly communities provide a great opportunity for social workers to encourage supportive local networks.
Crucially, these materials have been developed with carers themselves – I’m sure you will find them as interesting and informative as I have. Why not take a look and find out more?
It’s also great to see the retail sector recognising how important it is to support people in their caring roles. John Lewis has invited ‘SuperCarers’ in to run free care advice sessions in four John Lewis branches in London: Kingston, Watford, Brent Cross and Sloane Square.
The 20-minute drop-ins sessions are running throughout Carers Week covering issues such as: How do I pay for care? Do I qualify for local authority support? How can I keep mum or dad safe in their own home? What are my care options? There will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions too.
Super Carer sessions are taking place throughout this week:
- Tuesday 13 June, 12-3pm, Watford John Lewis
- Wednesday 14 June, 12-3pm, Brent Cross John Lewis
- Thursday 15 June, 10am - 1pm, Kingston
- Friday 16 June, 12-3pm, Peter Jones Sloane Square.
Find out more and reserve your place here. And if you do attend please share your experiences with friends and colleagues – or even with me on this blog. Whatever you do, have a great Carers Week.