Yesterday the Chief Executive of Suffolk Family Carers (www.suffolk-carers.org.uk) and Chairman of the Suffolk Family Carers Partnership Board, Jackie Martin invited me and Graham Newman, Portfolio Holder for Children’s and Young Persons Services on Suffolk County Council to give the opening addresses to the ‘Think Family Carer’ Conference at the Trinity Park Conference Centre in Ipswich to an audience of about 200 Carers and professionals from the Police, Health, Social Care and the voluntary organisations.
Graham’s powerful speech opened with him telling us about his personal experience as a young man providing care in his family as he focused on the launch of the ‘Supporting Young Carer and Young Adult Carers in Suffolk’ Strategy and my task was to introduced the ‘Multi Agency Strategy to Support Family Carers in Suffolk’ Strategy.
Both of these documents have really pulled together the thinking and aims of Carers and those who work across Suffolk to support them. Both strategies are quite something, not focused on systems or data collection but the outcomes needed to really help people who are wonderful enough to take on such daunting responsibility.
In my speech I said:
‘I too am delighted to welcome you to today’s launch of the both the Young Carers and the Adult Carers much anticipated multi-agency strategy for Suffolk.
My name is Colin Noble, and I am the portfolio holder for Adult & Community Services at Suffolk County Council
It gives me great pleasure to speak at today’s event and to join you all in commending the selfless and very demanding work required of the 98,000 family carers in Suffolk. There are about 700,000 of us here in Suffolk so that about 1 in 7 of us are carers.
In fact across the country almost 6,000 people become family carers every day, which is a clear indication of the widespread dedication to caring for a friend, family member or loved one that exists here in communities.
We know that the demand on family carers will grow, with increasing pressures as adult, parent and young family carers alike provide care and support for people with a range of needs and disabilities. When this is coupled with greater financial burdens, it is imperative that we do as much as we possibly can together to support family carers throughout Suffolk.
Family carers are so important as, without their tireless work to care for others, our local services would struggle to cope and the cost would be immense. The economic contribution made by family carers throughout the UK per year is a staggering £87billion, so we cannot for one minute underestimate their significance this is actually more that we spend on the NHS. As Graham said it’s estimated that figure in £700M here in Suffolk.
As we saw last night in the Leaders Debate when Mrs. Grace Lane from Bristol asked if it was right having raised 5 children that at 84 she received a £59 a week state pension to live on, which, I digress, is nothing short of a scandalous sum on which to live a life; During the debate that followed such a telling question, the Leaders expanded the issue to discuss the role of un-paid carers and the need to provide respite and recognise ‘Britain’s army of Carers’ and their importance in our society, this is of course welcome and shows how our aging society, the cost of care and family carers vital role; is finally starting to be openly discussed and debated.
With this in mind, the launch of today’s strategy is especially timely and is a powerful local response to the national carers’ strategy: ‘Carers at the heart of 21st Century families and communities’.
The strategy addresses the increasing pressures on family carers brought about by changing demographic and legislative requirements.
It also has, at the heart of it the many opportunities to provide care and support to meet the needs of each person as an individual, with the ultimate aim of achieving universal recognition of the importance of family carers as expert care partners in our community by 2013.
By setting clear outcomes within the plan for local agencies, employers and communities to support family carers, this represents a huge step forward. It is about engaging family carers, listening to their needs and doing everything we can to make their issues our issues by giving due recognition to the vital role they play.
The strategy and its action plan comprises 10 outcomes, tackling areas such as:
- dignity and respect
- development and delivery of support
- a joined up response from all agencies and
- the understanding that family carers need to take breaks, to assist in their own health and wellbeing.
All 10 outcomes are designed to highlight the good work that is being done across Suffolk now and a plan of action for the next three years.
This strategy is very much a joint effort.
At a time when we are constantly seeking better ways of working together to achieve more with less, it is so heartening to see such a successful example.
This applies not only to the work of local agencies from health to social care to the voluntary sector but to the communities themselves, in which family carers play such an important part.
In recent months, there have been plenty of innovative services to support family carers. I could name many examples, including:
- support for carers to plan ahead in case anything should go wrong,
- accessing better information, and
- identifying short breaks through the pioneering ‘Time For You’ website.
There is no doubt that this is an exciting time, but we still have plenty to do.
This strategy provides an outstanding framework for us to work together to improve the lives of family carers across the county.
I would like to thank all of the family carers who gave their time and voice to shape this strategy, and to the many local agencies and Family Carers Partnership Board whose drive and determination have made the strategy a reality.
I look forward to talking to many of you today, and hope you enjoy the rest of the launch, which I am very much looking forward to.
In the last session of the morning the excellent Red Rose Chain Film and Theatre Co. (www.redrosechain.com) presented ‘Bed Bugs’ a new short play about young carers by Joanna Carrick which was a very powerful piece about the lives of two young people and was followed by a excellent debate across the floor about how to provide families like this with support. For me the most telling part of an great debate was around why often families seem to try to avoid Social Services getting involved for fear of children being taken into care, I chipped in that the press stories where the focus was on where children had been removed were often very damaging firstly because of confidentially the real reasons for the need to remove a child could not be fully explained and the press simply does not print the headline ‘Another family successfully supported through a difficult period’. For me it was fascinating to hear from the professionals in the room that there is a real recognition that it’s not about taking Children away but how best to support the family and carers to provide a family environment not the sort of ‘Stepford Wives’ family model test or ‘else’ but a family environment, warts and all, just like most. The play and debate was really, really powerful stuff.
After Lunch Professor Saul Becker, Professor of Social Policy and Social Care University of Nottingham spoke about the journey of recognising and enshrining in law the rights of young Carers this county has been through in the last 17 years from a simple lack of any form of understanding and hidden nature of children who were often taking on unbelievable levels of responsibility at an often amazing young age, to today where Suffolk actually leads the way in this county with our strategy.
He also introduced us to his mother, who sat at the back of the room who lived in Woodbridge and had come along to hear her son speak as even thought after 17 years of working on his vision for Young Carers and speaking at 160 conference it was the first time she was to heard him speak at a Conference, and like so many of those who presented during the day he spoke of his early involvement with caring for another, as he and his mother has cared for his grandmother, at the end of his presentation he asked her if he did OK and she gave him a thumbs up, which was a lovely, my Mum would kill me if I did that!
Saul went on the talk about his vision for how we should support young carers for who, when they reach 18, across the county most support services simply stop because they are no longer children even though the care they provide does not, nor in fact does the support they need and often the support available to Adults is not appropriate for they as they seek to make their way in the world and still provide care.
He told a very telling tale of a young lady from the midlands who was moved from children support services to adult support services and went along to a Carers group for a music project to find that every one at the meeting was at least 50 years older than her and they were playing music from the war years and she never went back. In Suffolk I am glad to say they age relevant support is offered, something that is developing in Suffolk and a part of a wider body of work to look at all the children’s and adult services as our young people transition from childhood to adulthood whether they be carers, look after or simply in training and education.
In the break when I was chatting to Saul about where Suffolk was on this journey he told me that shortly he was invited to speak in Ireland at a conference to discuss young carers because they were in terms of recognition and legislation where this county was those years ago. Saul was not only passionate about his subject but a really great speaker who is able to get across the need for the county to adopt the sort of approach we have in Suffolk and make a real difference to the army of carers out there. You can read more about his work at www.saulbecker.co.uk
Of course this all of this work is about real partnership working and the next speaker Julia Hiley, Project Manager, Carers Experience Lead – NHS East of England, Eastern Development Centre, spoke about the work the NHS was undertaking to educate health professional about the support services that were out there to help Carers cope with the roles they have taken on, she spoke about a recent regional NHS conference and that Jackie Martin had chaired it and the way we are developing services in Suffolk is being used to develop services elsewhere in the Eastern Region.
Clearly we are doing something right here is Suffolk but as I said in my Speech there is more to do as well; a fascinating day on an important subject.