Across the pond: New reflections from the UK

CFooks 2The start of the winter season always brings tidings of joy, peace, and for some, relaxation. For many family caregivers, however, this can be start of an even more stressful period.

From providing emotional support to performing medical tasks, we know caregivers take on a host of roles and responsibilities, many of who also hold down paid employment. Add in the scheduling it takes to get together with family and the necessary adaptation to reduced hours from home care and other support networks, many caregivers may feel more stressed or isolated.

The situation can be even more difficult for young carers. Since schools close and various recreation programs take breaks for the December holidays, many young people may find themselves without their own support networks of friends, teachers, or other mentors.

It’s during this time of the year that the need for dedicated informal and formal caregiver support networks seems the most striking to me. Though pockets of promise exist throughout Ontario, we don’t yet have a consistent way to support and recognize caregivers across the province.

Some answers may lie across the pond. In October, I travelled to the United Kingdom, arguably one of the leading countries in terms of recognizing caregiver rights and developing supports. During my visit, I was astonished to see the simple and fairly easy types of caregiver support initiatives that were created on local, regional, and national levels—for example, Carers Passports.

Cathy Fooks speaking at CarersUK
Cathy Fooks speaking at CarersUK

Depending on the community or region where they’ve been developed, Carers Passports range from discount cards to passes for open visiting hours. Passports recognize who caregivers are in the health care system while at the same time connecting caregivers to a number of identifiable community supports. For organizations like Carers in Herts, carers passports leverage existing community institutions and businesses. To make initial contact and lessen the stigma that comes with seeking help, Carers in Herts uses local libraries as initial outreach posts and asks for caregivers to validate their passports by calling the organization. Once validated, the caregiver can use the passport as a discount card at local businesses, but have also had their information recorded by Carers in Herts for any further follow ups.

For this issue of Top of Mind, we share more our key findings from this recent visit. Most notably, we take a look the work organizations such as Carers UK and Carers in Herts have done to develop key caregiver support networks in our commentary article, written by Christa Haanstra, Executive Lead, Strategic Communications.  We also take time to feature John’s Campaign, a grassroots social media movement in the UK with one simple and successful aim: giving caregivers the right to stay in hospital with persons with dementia.

Our second feature gives an update on our long-term care residents’ councils and family councils project. As many of you may know, we released the project’s phase one report, Enhancing Care, Enhancing Life, in October which shared some key findings from a series of surveys to long-term care residents, families, and staff. In this feature, Research Assistant Stephanie Hylmar provdes her reflections on what these finding mean for Ontario’s long-term care sector.

Lastly, as this is our last Top of Mind for 2016, I want to wish you all a safe and happy holiday with your friends and family.

Big things are in store for 2017, including the announcement of our Changing CARE projects. I hope you’ll continue with us as we work to improve family caregiver experiences in Ontario’s health and community care sectors.

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