They Walk Among Us… that is the title of a one-act play by Nicholas O’Neill. I am not saying that carers are our guardian angels, but they are out there is society and they don’t usually carry badges. Some have uniforms – you see them early in the morning driving up, entering the numbers in key safes and letting themselves into houses of those, who, it is very likely are vulnerable in some way – mostly old, some with major health conditions, others dependent on support for other reasons.
So, carers occupy a strange place in our society. As far as I know, there is no career path to becoming a carer – no college or university specialising in the skills required to care at that level, yet, it is an area of our society that is rapidly expanding; indeed, growing at a rate which is greater than the ability of the companies deploying carers to recruit.
I make the last assertion with some confidence, as not only is this my first-hand experience from working with older people in the hospital, trying to support them to return home after a period of illness, it is also displayed on a large banner outside my local Tesco ‘Carers wanted – start straight away – £8 an hour’
There is a desperate need in our society for carers – this is something that has been coming-on for many years – it is decades since Western Society detached itself from the concept of multi-generational households, where ailing grandma lives with children and grand-children – this, for a variety of reasons including a greater need for autonomy on the part of the parent and the child, the pressures of work, and our mobile society which takes us away from ‘home’ at an early age (home being where your mammy is, which I overheard on Thursday)(tks SDeB)
What are the requirements for working in care? My impression is that you need a document from the police declaring that you aren’t a criminal and have not been arrested (I don’t know if being arrested on suspicion counts, or whether you have to be charged first) and I guess, some sort of interview and there you go; I imagine there is some training involved, perhaps describing the limitations of the role – ‘do remind the person that their medicine is due’, ‘don’t give the medicine’ ‘do, write in the book to say what you have done, ‘don’t not turn-up without telling someone’
And yet, we, that is the generation of adults who have parents who are those requiring care – acknowledging that this is not everyone, but many, willingly allow care to be provided by young, often inexperienced workers, allow them access to our most precious assets – our family, accept that they will work intimately with our mothers and fathers, facilitate the independence of people living with dementia and frailty, all at low cost, with little investment in training, consistently and reliably.
I don’t know whether this is too much to ask. Certainly, I can’t tell you the names of any of the carers who visited my mum in her last months of life, at home; I know they visited as sometimes I would phone and a carer would either answer the phone or be there in the background, I also saw the diary entries they would make in a record book.
As to who they were, what they were like, were they patient? kind? caring? considerate? Did they allow my mum time to find the right word before deciding they couldn’t understand? Did they rush her? Ensure that her coffee was milky enough and her portion of Philadelphia the right size?
These are questions I will never be able to answer.
I know that the vast majority of people in our society, and, in particular those who occupy roles as carers are caring – for, caring is not easy, it takes a physical, emotional and psychological toll. The numbers of people who don’t care who become carers must be small, but I imagine, like any walk of life they are out there.
How do we ensure that those providing care, and in particular home care, which is generally done in isolation – lone workers going into houses of lone people, is right, is safe, is what is wanted? What of a person who is unable to communicate their needs, who is unable to say whether the carer is doing the right things? We trust, we hope for the best, and we carry on, for in general, we – and that is those of us who have relatives living in society that need care, have no alternative.
Trust – such a confusing and sometimes misused word, is at the core of the role of the carer. Whether that person is a doctor, healthcare assistant, nurse, therapist or home-carer; we must trust, accepting as I have said, that most people are good, most people do what they do out of a sense of philadelphia – brotherly love.
And perhaps as time goes on, we will consider the needs of the carers, the support mechanisms that they require to allow them to do their role – perhaps, paying them more than the minimum wage, perhaps providing training and development, career progression and security.
As I look out my window, with the sun rising, I know that out there, in the streets of every town and city of the UK, carers are getting-up, setting-out in cars, on foot, by bus, to help the vulnerable in our society get through another day, and it is to them, those carers that I say thank you, that I offer a silent prayer for a good day, for laughter, for joy, for time with their own families that is meaningful and safe.
Over the town, 1918 by Marc Chagall, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
Copyright © Rod Kersh 2016