Carers Week – More than Words

Building Blocks of Art
‘Carers Week’ begins today. While the ‘official theme’ of the week is ‘In Sickness and In Health’ with a focus on the health of carers, I would provide my own theme from my position of having worked in social care for a fair few years as ‘more than words’.

Carers’ need more than accolades in order to feel supported and be supported properly. We need to be able to provide resources and that needs money.

Over the last 15 or so years, there have been definite changes in the status of ‘carers’ in social care organisations.  We have rolled out ‘Carers Assessments’  and have been able to provide services for carers directly as a result of new legislation. While we  assess the needs of carers – what we don’t have and where the disconnect exists – is a duty to provide services and nor national criteria about where a service should be and must be delivered.

The problem I face all too often is revolves around carrying out Carers’ Assessments (of course there is a target for these) but not being able to actually provide anything as a result of them. To which the obvious question I am asked is ‘Why do them if they only provide information to the Local Authority?’.  My local authority, fortunately and for now, at least, is fairly generous with carer support and direct services but this is by no means universal.

Mother watches over

I have been fortunate to see and provide some excellent services through direct payments made to carers and in a lot of ways, the services I have been responsible for providing as direct payments to carers have been a lot  more successful than some of my experiences with direct payments more broadly. I am able to encourage assessments with the possibility of a direct service provision as a result but I know this is by no means universal.

Assessments in themselves can be useful if they are conducted well and sensitively. Sometimes allowing a carer to have the space to discuss their own needs and explain fully the care they are and do provide and the effects that this has on their own wellbeing/goals and lives can be valuable – however there comes a point when this has to be acknowledged in a more ‘real’ (and yes, that can mean costs) way than smiling and nodding. More than words.

I’ve also seen an increase in the ‘posting a carers assessment out’ style of assessing which can lose some of the subtleties gained in a conversation and a visit. Of course, not everyone wants an assessment because the language and the questions can be formalised and particularly we get the ‘I’m not a carer, I’m a spouse/child/parent’ response but I’d counter that’s something that can be addressed by a change in the way of ‘paper assessment’ and the language and discourse models that exist around social care. Why can’t we be more flexible regarding what an assessment actually is? Do we have to ask the questions on the form?

We give, others receive but that’s a tired model – particularly in relation to carers who give us, as a service and organisation – much much more than we can ever give them.

So why is it reduced to a paper assessment logged onto a computer database? Because that allows performance indicators to be met.

My ideal service would be more flexible about the ways that assessments are compiled and would allow much more for free text and less on box ticking. Box ticking can help some clarify but it by no means captures what role caring plays in all lives. ‘Caring’ is not uniform. There are a myriad of needs and a myriad of ways to both communicate this need and for support to be delivered – or there should be. If people want boxes to tick, by all means provide them but if they want open space to discuss or write or record what and how they feel about their role and what might help, then allow that too.

We also (in social care) need to work on our assumptions a lot. Families exist in different ways and have different histories. There may be many reasons that don’t need to be disclosed about caring may be more difficult in particular situations and assumptions can be very damaging.

The new Adult Social Care White Paper is imminent, apparently. There needs to be a commitment not just to assessments of carers but of delivery of services and support to carers. More than words.

While the government talks about ‘respite’ and the need for breaks, I’d argue that is essential but while the provision of services is being cut and there are fewer, more distant places to offer respite the realities will remain as far from the government planning as they are at present. Capital investment and investment in decent staffing in homes that offer respite consistently would help. Clear explanations about entitlements and potential costs would help. Services that speak to each other would help. Pooled budgets would help but the easy words come thick and fast. The solutions can’t be found by words alone.

The current system as it exists relies on carers significantly to ease the burden of cost of the social care system. This needs to be more transparent in terms of publishing details of how indicative personal budgets are arrived at and the amount that is ‘saved’ by a carer. If some of these ‘savings’ (not even a minute proportion – but some ) is ploughed back into effective and personalised support with professionals who are able to access and feedback good, local information and provide support and training to carers where they want it the savings over the long term would be much higher.

The cost of poor support for carers is much much higher than the cost of good support – but in these times of ‘belt-tightening’ it can be forgotten while we reach the goals of short term savings.

It’s a lesson that both the NHS and social care systems would be mindful to heed.

In order to support carers ‘In Sickness and In Health’ the government, the organisations such as the NHS and local authorities, employers and communities needs to provide ‘more than words’.

Images by W4nd3rl0st at Flickr and Sapphiren at Flickr

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