Linda Still is helping to shape how carers are treated by playing a role in the selection of social workers
Since 2001 I have been a carer for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. I recognised early on that I could not fulfil this role without help and support. I became involved in two carers’ groups and attended various meetings, lectures and study days. It has been a steep learning curve which I could not manage without help from my close family.
I quickly became aware that when I met up with other carers we had a variety of problems. The help each of us received was very variable, especially from social services and GP surgeries. When I heard moans about these agencies I started asking, “What have you done about it?” I always received the same answer: “Nothing”.
My feeling was that if no one does anything about it, the carers of the future will suffer the same fate. So I decided I would do something about it. Now I am on the interview panel at University College Chichester, interviewing prospective students for the BA Honours in Social Work. This means I have a say – from a carers’ perspective – on who I think is suitable as a future social worker. We have training in interview techniques and we set the questions to be asked at interview. We can answer questions from the candidates if we feel able to. It is often apparent quite early on who knows about carers’ role and who doesn’t.
I am also involved with the shadowing carers project so that members of the Horsham and Chanctonbury primary care trust team can witness life from a carer’s point of view at first hand. They are allocated a day to come and see how I cope with the day to day activities of being a carer. Although the idea is that the PCT team member gains valuable knowledge, it can be a two-way process for us carers. As a carer I tend to store knowledge in case I need it at a later date.
Both of these posts are voluntary although they pay for alternative care for the necessary time required. My travelling, parking and lunch expenses are also met in full. All I give is my time and my knowledge. In return I receive help and understanding and I meet other carers, which gives us the opportunity to socialise.
These projects give me a chance to have a break from caring without the guilt feeling. I get a chance to use my brain which spends most days repeating things. It gives a boost to my morale as well as my self-esteem.
I am well aware that I am lucky as a carer – I am not tied to the person I care for day in, day out, as are some carers. The day unit she attends is happy to have her at short notice and I have excellent family backup. This means I can look after my health and well-being. I am lucky enough to live near a gym and do other leisure activities such as learning computer skills.
I just hope that by my giving up some of my time and expertise, the future for carers may be brighter. After all, past carers worked hard to help improve things for me now.