My name is Alison Cram and over the coming months I’ll be sharing thoughts and ideas on being an unpaid family carer, things that work for me (like How Knitting Saved My Life!) and that might be useful for you too, plus news of what’s happening in the carers’ world up here in Aberdeen, north-east Scotland.
I’ve been a carer for my dad for over six years now, moving back into my parents’ house after my mum died suddenly in her sleep in 2013. In some ways, life before I became a carer feels like another world, but in other ways these last six years have gone by like a flash.
My dad’s needs have been steadily increasing over the years, following a serious head injury in 2008, a stroke just after my mum died and now the development of vascular dementia.
Being a carer has been one of the most tiring, stressful and rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my time – from town planner to English tutor and from careers counsellor to Christmas tree pruner – and didn’t think that one of the most fulfilling roles I’d play would be ‘daughter’.
I’ve been lucky though. I get great family support from my brother, who also lives here in Banchory, and from my sister, who lives further afield but visits and phones regularly. We also have two excellent paid carers who come in to help us out.
Navigating my way through Scotland’s Self Directed Support (SDS) system
Here in this part of northeast Scotland, Dad’s care is organised under the Self-Directed Support (SDS) system. Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership (AHSCP), in discussion with Dad and myself, determined the number of hours of care that they would fund per week. We were then given control of that budget to employ who we wanted for whichever hours we chose.
The exact arrangements vary from person to person, depending on their circumstances, but the overall principle of SDS is to give the unpaid carer and their loved one a greater degree of control over who they employ and when.
I think the principle is good, but like any system it doesn’t always work quite as well in practice as it does in theory. The care system in Scotland, like the rest of the UK, struggles with a lack of funding and resources. Being able to choose your own paid carers is great, but finding those carers for the times you want is easier said than done, especially in more sparsely populated areas.
Carers’ Power of Attorney responsibilities
With Power of Attorney for Dad, I act as ‘employer’ for our carers, which comes with extra responsibilities and the inevitable paperwork. I have never been an employer before and there is no training provided, so there is an element of making it up as we go along. Fortunately, all has worked out so far but I have found the support systems for both employers and carers to be a bit patchy.
Having said that, overall SDS has worked for us. It gives me time for a little freelance work and time out to see friends for coffee or to potter in the garden, activities that are vital for my physical and mental health. With that healthy balance I’ve found caring for my dear dad to be a very enriching thing to do – it puts things into perspective and helps me focus on what really matters.
Our voices matter
But I also know that we’re lucky and that not all family carers have access to this vital level of support. Which is why I won’t stop raising my voice to campaign for carers and why online places like FamilyCarersNet are so important.
Ask me anything
I’ll be writing and or producing a video each week, if you have anything you’d like to ask of me or have a general question, you can do so in ‘the pod’. I’m in there chatting away with other carers, who I’m sure will be keen to help too. And to have a good natter!