This week is Carer’s week apparently. These are some of my thoughts and experiences as a carer.
I was a carer from quite a young age. I wanted to make a difference and do something worthwhile with my life. I liked helping people and avoiding conflict. Caring for adults with learning disabilities and children in local authority care initially ticked these boxes for me. I got in return an enrichment that made me happier and able to feel better about myself. (I have always had low self esteem.) I finished my degree and had the choice of post graduate study in primary teaching or social work. I was more drawn to social work and chose this route in life. I had placements in residential child care ( list D school) and residential adult care ( epilepsy and respite services) and subsequently social worked in a variety of settings mainly outside of conventional fieldwork. Various support services for adults with learning disabilities, residential child care and then an opportunity to contribute to training other social care workers. None of these roles have ever been well paid in terms of national averages but have always brought at least some degree of fulfilment.
Along the way their have been improvements in care practice and more progressive approaches to sensitive issues like rights and personal choice. Despite this however I feel that the ethos and value base of policy makers and those who do their bidding has become pervaded by a disingenuousness that has slowly changed the care world and not in a good way! Too often in recent years laudable ideas – integration, choice, freedom – have been applied in a manner that has been less about improving life for those with disabilities and more about saving money for cash strapped authorities and health boards. Generally for these worthwhile goals to be achieved resources need to be put in not taken out.
The economic downturn has also contributed and made people more hard faced and mean and this has affected all walks of life and services alas even the ones that were meant to look out for the vulnerable in our society.
Before our lives were directly affected by disability with the birth of our autistic son Jen and I were both becoming disillusioned with many aspects of social work and looking for ways to stay true to the principles that took us to it in the first place. Our options were severely curtailed when we became full time carers ourselves.
Both in an employment sense and as part of a family who rely on care services I see less and less emphasis being placed on the basic values that make people want to be carers and more and more emphasis on efficiencies and so called best practice. We need an urgent return to caring values from the top down.
Sadly this appears in some cases to go hand in hand with egotistic professionals who are often dripping in their own self importance – a trait that makes them unwilling to answer to the very people they are supposed to serve. Social workers and education professionals at all levels require to listen, engage and be honest with people with disabilities and their carers. That would be my wish for carer’s week.