Amy Taylor examines how a government-backed scheme is helping give carers the skills to sustain them in their roles
Glen Sanger, 47, recently lost his job managing an Essex pub. But the redundancy, in one way, came at a good time, he says, because his elderly mother has dementia and needed a carer.
Now, every morning he gets up and takes his mum from her house to his, before taking her home in the evening where an alarm system ensures she can get help quickly during the night.
"She can be annoying, but it's just one of those things. You just have to accept it because you know they don't mean it. Mum won't know what she has said afterwards," he says.
Sanger is one of five million unpaid carers in England. He is in touch with services, unlike 60% of carers, through taking part in a seven-week course in Maldon, Essex called Caring with Confidence, run by Suffolk Family Carers.
This is part of a multi-million pound programme running throughout England (see box), which is designed to improve support for carers aged over 18.
"The programme is about raising confidence and empowering carers themselves," says Graham Brindley, director of the national Caring with Confidence programme.
Carers can take part in the scheme by attending group sessions near to where they live, reading self-study work books, or taking part in online interactive sessions. Subjects covered include the emotions involved in caring for someone, how to develop coping strategies for times of stress and the importance of looking after yourself.
The scheme's national team and the local providers are trying to reach carers who are not in touch with services by advertising locally and by building relationships with services carers come into contact with.
Social workers aren't that involved in referring people at the moment but Brindley says they are trying to change this so that whenever social workers carry out a carers' assessment in a local area they tell people about the service.
All Caring with Confidence schemes offer carers full reimbursement for their transport costs to get them to the sessions, including taxi fares if necessary. The scheme also pays for respite care for carers. Unusually, this is not just for agencies and includes a rate of £10 an hour for care provided by family members or friends.
"We want to reduce any barriers that the carers have to attending. Research shows that this is a very important way to get carers to attend," says Dan Bristow, manager of the project for Suffolk Family Carers.
The scheme is being evaluated by Leeds University, but feedback from carers already shows many feel more confident after attending the course.
"When I first found out about my mum having dementia I was little help to her because I didn't know where to go or what to do," says Sanger. "I learn lots at the sessions especially about dementia. When it's new to you, you have got lots of questions. The scheme gives me a bit more knowledge on what to expect later on. There's one person at the course whose husband - who has dementia - gets violent."
John Carr, 77, attends group sessions in Madon with Sanger. He cares for his wife who has had two major strokes. He has had two small strokes himself. He says the sessions give people a space to discuss emotions they are unable to disclose elsewhere.
"When you're a carer, there are lots of feelings that go on. You feel hurt, you ask 'why me?' and feel helpless and isolated sometimes. Occasionally you feel angry at the person you are caring for. I know it's not nice to say but speaking to most people they all feel at times like doing a mischief to the person that they are caring for."
He says that for a lot of people the group sessions are the only chance they get to vent their feelings. "It's a platform for people to meet on and learn and even the most timid people can be drawn out of their shell. Things that I heard there have been an eye opener to me. I didn't realise there were other people like me or in even worse situations.
"Both men and women can let go of their emotions and not be embarrassed. If you go to a funeral and a man starts crying most men look away. There it's totally different. If a man started crying other men will come and pat him on the shoulder because we have all been there, me included."
About Caring with Confidence
Caring with Confidence was launched in April 2009 and aims to have reached 27,000 carers by the end of March 2011. So far, 3,600 carers have taken part in the scheme.
The programme is backed by the Department of Health with funding of £4.6m per year for the next two years. It is part of the 2008-renewed National Carers' Strategy and the New Deal for Carers, which aims to improve support for carers.
The programme is being delivered by a consortium of five organisations – Carers UK, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Crossroads Caring for Carers, Partners in Policymaking and the Expert Patients Projects Community Interest Company.
There are currently 26 Caring with Confidence schemes across England. They are run by a range of providers including voluntary sector organisations, local authorities and primary care trusts.
The renewed National Carers' Strategy
Caring with Confidence
Suffolk Family Carers