How to support our hidden army of carers?

Too often we see carers burnout due to lack of adequate support, especially with the added impact of COVID 19 creating seemingly insurmountable barriers between families and services.

Monique reflects on what needs to be done to overcome these challenges and why, in our recent pilot program with DFFH North Kinship Engagement Unit, our clinicians have focused on nurturing post placement resilience after placement breakdown.

Across the past 4 months ACTG has witness substantial growth in the provision of carer support services for carers with responsibility for children and young people. I think we should take a moment to reflect on this and the challenges carers across all sectors face. The progressive recognition of the role of carers is positive and at ACTG we encounter a range of stories highlighting the commitment of carers , and is a powerful reminder that more work needs to be done to make sure their voice continues to be heard.

When we assess the current proposition open to carers it is important to understand their role. In our context, a carer is generally somebody that looks after a child or young person, and the reason for which can be varied, due to care and protection issues, or illness, or disability.  Increasingly we are identifying through our work that when someone becomes a carer, it can be unexpected and they are often ill prepared.

It is very common for those with caring responsibilities to neglect their own needs whilst they care for a loved one.

Although it may not be perceived as such, caring can be the hardest job somebody may experience in their lifetime, often taking a huge physical and emotional toll. The needs of carers are inextricably linked to the needs of those they care for. ‘Burnout’ is an all too common result of delivering care responsibilities and leads to more individuals needing respite support.

More needs to be done to recognise the financial and societal care challenges.

Even with enormous sums of money being saved by this hidden army, carers are still often referred to as “informal” carers. This can lead to the perception that they are not appreciated, hugely undervalued and completely taken for granted. It is important to break down barriers and stereotypical perceptions – we all have our part to play in recognising the contribution of carers – businesses, government and support services alike.

The impact of COVID 19 is further creating barriers for carers and potentially isolating carers from support mechanisms.

I am concerned that our care system has the propensity to create a carer cliff edge. The debate around what comes next, once an individual’s care responsibilities end, requires renewed thinking. We have been fortunate to engage in a pilot program under the auspice of DFFH North Division Kinship Engagement Unit, in which we have been able to support a small cohort of carers post-placement cessation. This engagement is enabling ACTG to look at this and other issues faced by carers once a placement comes to an end.

A key theme that is emerging is the need of carers to receive the support they need to maintain a work-life-care balance during their caring time.

Often the challenging presentation of the children and young people in the placement require substantial devotion of time, energy and support by the carers. They often sacrifice many elements of their own well-being, including self care and work opportunities.  The intensity and concentration when children are in placement, can be most confronting once a placement ends, and carers are left with a gap in their lives. Often the resumption of life as it was pre -placement is not instantaneous, nor at times remotely possible.

This pilot project even at this embryonic stage, is highlighting the need for a post placement resilience programme to be established to nurture and care for carers once a placement reaches it cessation.

For many carers, specifically those in a kin relationship, they want to remain in a child or young person’s live, and or their family. This often requires a new form of relational navigation, especially post a placement breakdown. As this project further unfolds we look forward to sharing the emergent themes and opportunities to further develop meaningful and real strategies of supporting our carer workforce.

Monique Blom

CEO

Australian Childhood Trauma Group