With over 6.5 million carers across the UK, Lisa Smith, Research and Development Manager at Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA), believes we need to make supporting this unpaid workforce a priority. RiPfA has been examining current social work practice and talking to carers about the changes needed, as part of a project commissioned by the Department of Health.
The Department of Health commissioned us at the start of 2016 to develop these, and we have worked with Carers UK and the Carers Trust to recruit a group of carers to co-produce the materials. The development process included two workshops with this group, the first to get their ideas and experience written up into case studies, and then to review the materials we produced to make sure that it reflected their lived experience.
As well as producing some fantastic resources, being involved in the workshops had some surprising benefits for individual carers. People felt that they learned a lot from each other and went away feeling valued and that their voice had been heard. One person told us they felt their involvement in developing the resources had had a very positive effect on their caring role. Having the opportunity to speak, be heard and their voice embedded in a resource seems to have had a positive impact.
At the second workshop we asked if people might like to be filmed, talking about what they feel good social work practice should look like. The messages that we heard repeated again and again were: ‘listen to me’; ‘read the case notes before you come to visit’; ‘view us carers as an asset’; ‘don’t promise to do something that you can’t deliver’; and ‘answer my phone calls, emails’.
The desire to work collaboratively with professionals was very strong, and what struck me from hearing those voices is that these are all relatively little things that people want. It’s what we’d all want or need in any interaction, to be heard, to feel listened to and to be seen as a whole person.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with this group of carers to develop these tools. Each person was really committed, generously donating their time to enable the development of tools to support other carers. I learned a huge amount, and the resources are so much richer for having carer input from the start, as well as the group reviewing the materials once they were developed.
There are over 6.5 million people across the UK in a caring role and we have a clear responsibility to look after this unpaid workforce. These resources are intended to enhance understanding of the issues that carers are facing and experiencing, and provide guidance on how to work with them, not only to enable them to meet the various demands and challenges of being a carer, but also to support their physical and emotional wellbeing.
The Department of Health is making supporting carers a priority because they believe that ‘caring for others should not be to the detriment of the carer’s own health and wellbeing’ and that there is more we can all do to ensure this. To help with this work they are carrying out a survey to gather the views of carers, those who have someone caring for them, social workers and other professionals supporting carers. Take part in the survey to help inform their strategy to support carers.