Insight and innovation in the UK
Christa Haanstra, Executive Lead, Strategic Communications
It was on the train back to London from Hertfordshire when the enormity of just how much leadership, collaboration and focus is needed to make positive changes for caregivers in Ontario registered.
Throughout my work with The Change Foundation, I’ve been lucky to be a part of numerous caregiver engagement activities. In these settings, I’ve heard many caregivers share their experiences in Ontario’s health care system. It should come as no surprise that what made the difference in each story was the level of support and recognition a caregiver received. Sometimes it was as small as simply being asked how they were doing. Other times, it was as significant as peer support groups or formal counselling.
So this past October, as Cathy Fooks and I met with various caregiver organizations in the United Kingdom, it underscored for me just how far we have to go in Ontario to better recognize and empower caregivers.
Luckily for us, organizations we visited in the UK provided shining examples of the innovative and simple things that can be done to better support caregivers.
In the UK, the role of the caregiver has been in the national consciousness since the 1960s, evidenced by the large number of organizations and programs providing care for caregivers today. It was this critical mass of caregiver organizations that gained the attention of the lawmakers, culminating with the introduction of the Carers Act, 2014. This combination of grassroots efforts with formal recognition, such as legislation, has positioned the UK as a leader in supporting caregivers.
This long history is also reflected in the types of comprehensive regional programs that exist. For example, we had the privilege of visiting Carers in Herts, a leading regional organization working to erase the barriers that stand between caregivers and the support they need. Their passion, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit was evident every step of our visit.
Supporting a region of 1.25 million people, Carers in Herts provides carer information, advocacy, education and planning support. Their unique Carers Passport program has leveraged a creative partnership with the local library and local businesses and other services across Hertfordshire to provide rewards such as discounts to area caregivers. Seen as a kind of Certificate of Appreciation, the passports are a catalyst that connects Carers in Herts with caregivers to get them the support they need.
Another outstanding program administered by Carers in Herts was their Make a Difference for Carers grant—a one-time sum of up to £500 for an individual caregiver’s positive health and wellness. The grant is designed to go towards an investment that best serves the caregiver’s unique needs as determined by an assessment with the caregiver. From a trip away for respite time, to an investment in a computer to facilitate new connections with other caregivers online, this small investment can have a huge impact on an individual’s life.
While Carers in Herts provided rich insight regionally, we were also impressed by Carers UK’s caregiver advocacy work nationally—in particular the Employers for Carers program. Through this program, Carers UK helps develop a work setting whereby any caregiver can self-identity to their employer and discuss what accommodations they may require, from flexible hours to additional time away. Although each caregiver-friendly workplace is unique, Carers UK typically follows a disability-friendly or mental health-friendly workplaces model.
Though many leaders I met were shocked at how little is being done in Ontario for caregivers, they also were quick to point to the issues facing caregivers in the UK. Many were all too familiar: perceived vs. real barriers to privacy; difficulty engaging health providers, the lack of caregiver self-identification; and the inconsistency in program implementation across regions. Despite the achievements in legislation and recognition, supporting the needs of caregivers is always a work in progress.
On the flight home, I took a moment to reflect on what we had seen. Though organizations like Carers in Herts emphasized just how far we have to go to in Ontario, the trip also renewed the Foundation’s drive to work with Ontario’s caregivers and providers.
The UK has provided the vision we see for Ontario. Now let’s make it happen.