Engaging with caregivers is an essential part of any community development project. Carers have a unique understanding of the strengths, needs and aspirations of the people they care for. They are highly skilled people who have knowledge of the day to day lives of target groups. They reflect on trends and influences and understand how decision makers, governments and policy can impact experiences first hand. In short, they are a wealth of knowledge and expertise for making social change, developing strategies and delivering meaningful impact.
All areas of governance, be it; health planning, infrastructure, community development and arts and culture can benefit from engaging with caregivers for their deep understanding surrounding inclusion, social cohesion and strength in diversity.
On the flip side, carers work really hard! The contribution of carers is often overlooked or not understood as valuable work. Often care work is unpaid or underpaid. We know that a huge amount of care work in Australia is undertaken by volunteers, so finding the time to reach them can be difficult. Delivering successful engagement programs with carers in mind should focus on three areas:
- Your consultation must be meaningful for them- carers themselves should be part of the focus and engagement should add something valuable for them in return (avoid consulting only about the people they care for, you gotta care for your carer!)
- Your consultation must be respectful of carers contributions and time – (don’t over consult)
- Your consultation must be sensitive to the many ways that care work is understood and undertaken (don’t make assumptions)
This year, Conversation Co have had the privilege of working with the City of Manningham to develop a healthy ageing strategy. The project seeks to explore ageing in a holistic sense understanding how different needs intersect to inform service, community program and infrastructure planning. Part of our engagement is reaching carers who think about this day to day. In developing our engagement plan we’ve spent some time thinking about how best to work with carers, below are a few tips we’ve come up with.
- Focus on carer needs: Make sure to always consult with carers about their needs primarily. Many carers report their work can be isolating and lead to mental health issues and supporting them is essential. Some common things carers request are resources, training, support and respite.
- Value: Make sure there’s something valuable for carers in exchange for their time: this could be links to information, networking opportunities, training opportunities, or a fun day out!
- Timing: Make sure your engagement activity suits their schedule. Choose an appropriate time of day like a weekday morning and pick places where carers don’t have to go out of their way: the supermarket, coffee shop, neighbourhood house or library. Offering online sessions or phone interviews can help to arrange things around a busy schedule with appointments, transport, household duties, etc.
- Flexibility: Flexibility is extremely important. Offer a range of options and times and be prepared to rearrange if something comes up. This helps to build trust and communicate the value of carer contributions.
- Comfortable: Make sure the space you create provides comfort and is accessible for the person they care for (e.g: seating, shade, large print fonts on materials). This can help to take the pressure off carers so they can participate.
- Engaging everyone: Make sure your engagement has opportunities for the person who is cared for. You never want to have a situation where you’re consulting a carer about a person where they can’t contribute to discussions or clarify the subject.
- Inclusive: Consider the language you use. People don’t always identify with being a ‘carer’ or recognise the work they do as care work. They could be the spouse of a frail aged person, see it as helping out a friend, or helping out a parent.
- Understand complexity: Care work is understood differently across cultures- as is ageing & disability. Everyone’s situation is different. Start with broad questions and let people provide you with detail. Use appreciative inquiry and frame things positively. We are not looking for deficits, fears or faults.
Source: Working and engaging with carers – learning from Ageing Better (Source)