Before my parents passed away, I was a family caregiver, from a distance. Mom and Dad lived half a country away, in southern Ontario. They lived apart, although in the same city. I would visit multiple times a year (as would my siblings, who also lived at a distance), usually a week or two at a time. It was all a bit crazy. Mom and Dad were both unhappily entangled in systems; systems in which individual needs often took back seat to organization/jurisdiction needs. And the challenges of dealing with the systems can be pretty overwhelming for the caregiver, never mind the person being cared for! It helps to know that you are not alone.
Family Caregivers’ Network Society
You are not alone. That’s the message from the Family Caregivers Network Society (FCNS), based in Victoria, BC. Their mission is to inform, support and educate on issues of concern to unpaid family caregivers, people who provide care for an adult family member or friend who is chronically ill, frail, elderly, or has a disability.
FCNS services include: one-to-one emotional support by telephone, in-person or on-line, help in navigating the healthcare system, referral and information on community resources, support groups, education workshops, newsletter, products (their Resource Guide for Family Caregivers is excellent I bought a copy) The amazing things are that it may only take one supporter, to make a huge difference for the caregiver, and family caregivers often do better psychologically and emotionally, just knowing there is someone to out there who has their back, even if they don’t actually call on them.
Having heard Barbara MacLean, executive director of the FCNS, speak at a recent Elder Friendly Community Network meeting, I connected with her, at her office in downtown Victoria, to learn a bit more. Here are a few notes I took from our conversation:
The challenges with supporting family caregivers
- Connecting family caregivers and their supporters; There are 93,000+ unpaid family care providers in the Greater Victoria area (more than of total local population). FCNS currently reaches only 41,000.
- Getting employers engaged; and converting that engagement into employer/employee action
- Becoming more inclusive; e.g., connecting better with immigrant communities
- Supporting rural/remote caregivers; smaller, remote communities present unique challenges (and not just for family caregiving!)
- Building a strong BC network of caregiver supports: there are over 63 different organizations involved in supporting family caregivers in BC and they are most often working in isolation; FCNS has piloted a BC Caregiver Network to address this, and is seeking funding for it to continue
- Building public awareness for the true value provided by family caregivers; and converting that awareness into action
- Trying to do a lot with a little; FCNS is comprised of only 3 staff and approximately 30 volunteers (including the Board)
- Balancing life, work and caring; and the challenge is only going to magnify as society greys, and especially in Victoria, a magnet for the grey
- How do we make the best difference; how to scale support for family caregivers
- Developing hubs that facilitate inter-agency coordination and collaboration
- Building partnerships; partnerships that are focused and tactical
- Making it easy for new and current supporters to contribute; e.g., keeping it short, bite-sized and manageable
- Reaching out; e.g., through electronic and social media
- Telling stories; e.g., through engaging narrative and video; sharing the positive impacts of family caregivers
- Converting engagement into action; e.g., volunteerism, reciprocity, funding
For more on the family caregivers situation in BC, check out their recently-released action plan for supporting Family Caregivers in British Columbia, developed by FCNS and funded through the Ministry of Health, Home and Community Care Branch.
How can you help?
My/your turn will come. It might be just that You COULD Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? And when it does, hope someone is there for you. Odds are it could be a family caregiver. Insure your future. Contribute to the FCNS. Call it self-interest! Or you could give-it-up to the systems. Your choice.
How are you valuing the role of family caregivers?
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