Catherine Monk-Saigal, Program and Communications Associate
Early on in The Change Foundation’s year of listening and learning from family caregivers (2015-2016), young carers emerged as an often-overlooked group of caregivers. A focus on meeting the needs for young carers services in a variety of settings will be integrated in our work with our four Changing CARE partnerships.
We often use the U.K. as a measuring stick of how far our province has to go in terms of support, recognition, assessment, and identification for caregivers. In February 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the U.K. to explore young carer services, and learn firsthand about the incredible strides the U.K. has taken to recognize and support its young carers.
Throughout my time with several different young carer organizations, the sheer abundance of community supports was overwhelming, from programs within schools to group community programs to online communities. A majority of these support organizations are funded and nestled within local authorities and social care programs. At times, it seemed as if there was an overlap of some support services. Quite an exceptional problem to have.
What was the driving force behind this?
Interestingly, all the agencies agreed that the Carers Act of 2014, coupled with the changes to the Children and Families Act have made a notable difference in their ability to provide services. For many, it opened the doors into schools, and health and community care organizations, including general practitioners. The legislation has helped increase awareness of young carers, but most importantly, it puts the onus on the health, community and education system to identify young carers and facilitate access to an assessment. It’s their legislated right.
Although the organizations we met with provide assessment and either refer or host supports for young carers, many also had a focus on enabling schools to create and independently run their own support and identification programs for young carers. In fact, several of the young carer organizations had created a criteria or scheme system for school programs, awarding schools based on the level of recognition and supports offered. Schools even took it upon themselves to identify a professional (teachers, counselors, principals, head teachers, etc) to act as young carer champions in their setting.
One step further
Transition planning is a buzz word heard often as patients and caregivers try to navigate Ontario’s health and community care system. However, young carer agencies in the U.K. take this one step further. They realize that the role of young carers shifts when they move into young adulthood, so they are creating distinct young adult carer services within their agencies. Furthermore, there are a number of young adult carer services sprouting up in the U.K., to meet the unique needs of this population at a transitional time in life.
Although The Change Foundation is primarily focused on caregiver interactions with Ontario’s health care system, my time in the U.K. was a clear reminder that the role of a young carer surpasses the health care system. In the U.K., schools are a vital partner to local young carer programs. It was abundantly clear that without the national awareness of the role and the legislative push to ensure that the needs of young carers are met, the programs, services, and supports at a local and national level would not be as robust as they are today.
As we move forward with our Changing CARE projects, we will continue to look internationally, in the U.K. and beyond, for inspiration. Look for lessons and takeaways from our own Jodeme Goldhar, Executive Lead of Strategy and Innovation, from her international meetings in our next newsletter.