Social care should support carers

Unpaid carers are vitally important partners in supporting people to live independently. If we accept this, then it naturally follows that social care and health professionals have a fundamental role in helping carers to recognise how important their work is.

This year, skills for care, of which I am chief executive, is delighted to be supporting Carers week (10-16 June), the theme of which is Prepared to Care? Over the course of this week we are working with social care and health professionals to see how they can pro-actively support the UK’s 6.5 million carers.

Social care and health professionals might not always fully understand the central role of the carer or, worse still, ignore it. We know that sometimes professionals don’t listen to what they are saying or may even see the carer as interfering and not acting in the best interests of the service user. But by embracing the role of the carer and helping them to understand their role we can avoid adversarial situations that can arise between professionals and carers. It makes much more sense to recognise people in a caring role as a major partner in the delivery of a person’s support and to support the carer also.

Access to information and the right support from the beginning are essential for carers. Skills for Care’s balancing work and care-a carers guide suggests that people don’t identify themselves as a carer early enough so they find it more difficult to make use of flexible working arrangements and their rights within the workplace.

Social care and health professionals can and should help people very early on to understand their workplace rights. By doing so, they enable a carer to feel more confident at work and at home. Flexible working practices and understanding from employers are critical. There is a strong economic argument that employers who enable staff with caring responsibilities to remain at work then have workers who are more motivated and committed – as well as avoiding the loss of those workers’ vital workplace skills.

By sharing information, decision making and planning with carers, people can have more confidence in the decisions being made about the person they are caring for. Social care and health professionals are uniquely placed to recognise the role that carers are taking on and to identify what they need to know about local support and services. It should never be assumed that people in a caring role understand the local social care or health system, or even that they value their own hard won knowledge and expertise about the person they are supporting.

Getting a carer assessment right can go a long way to helping them understand their role. In partnership with Carers Trust, Skills for Care is identifying and defining the skills and knowledge needed by social care staff undertaking carers assessments. Improving people’s listening skills, empathy and understanding of carers’ needs go hand in hand with skills in teasing out and addressing difficult issues. These are just some of the early workforce development requirements being identified.

Carers have learning needs too, and last year, Skills for Care’s learning for carers grants supported 49 projects to help people in a caring role learn new skills and understand their role. The learning-for-carers programme demonstrated that supporting carers to understand and have confidence in their role as a carer can significantly enhance the way in which they support someone and improve their relationship with the professional networks around them.

Carers are expert partners in care and strategic partners, not only in the context of the person they are caring for, but also in policymaking and informing workforce development. Skills for Care is helping professionals and employers supporting carers to recognise and understand the role and the needs of carers and be a channel of additional support and information.

If we support carers to understand and value their role and share their expertise, then we can reduce carers’ stress levels and improve their self-confidence, which means the people they are caring for can continue to live independent lives in our communities.

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Southwark Carers
3rd Floor, Walworth Methodist Church,
54 Camberwell Road, London, SE5 0EW
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020 7708 4497

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Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).

Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle

Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45