Time to care for the invisible caregivers

Families, friends, neighbours and volunteers: Informal caregivers are providing invaluable services, but pressures are mounting. The In For Care project has produced a wealth of insights and solutions for sustainable informal care in the North Sea Region.

At Vennesla volunteer centre, daily life has become simpler. Earlier, the over 200 regular volunteers were organised with the help of ring binders and Excel sheets. Now, all of them are registered in the app FRIDA. This makes communication and organisation much easier. 

“It is great to have found a tool that suits us. Now we can register volunteers according to interests, and it is easy to put relatives, contacts, and volunteers in touch. And it is good to know that everything has been done in compliance with privacy protection regulations,” says leader of the volunteer centre, Jorunn Sagen Olsen. 

Norway is a world leader in volunteerism. More than half of the population are involved in volunteering. It is also a declared governmental policy that more volunteers and relatives become active within the health and care fields.

Jorun Sagen Olsen, leader of the Vennesla volunteer centre

“Volunteer centres have popped up in order to create meeting places for the volunteers outside of the organisations. We are concerned with finding the resources that individuals have, and mobilising networks so that people are able to master their volunteer work,” says Olsen.

FRIDA is the result of extensive mapping of user needs by the In For Care partners. Beyond Norway, it is being tested in the Netherlands and Belgium, and there are plans to try out this tool in Scotland as well.

The invisible carers

In Europe, 80% of all care is provided by informal carers – that is people providing usually unpaid care to someone with a chronic disease, disability or any other long-lasting health or care need, outside of a professional or formal framework.

Although carers are the cornerstone of our long-term care systems, their contribution is seldom acknowledged and their needs are rarely discussed. Yet current societal trends put informal carers under excessive pressure. This includes the ageing of our societies, growing levels of co-morbidity among dependent people, and increasing mobility and changes in family structures.

The sustainability of the carers’ effort is at stake and without adequate support, these people are likely to reach a breaking point and become unable to provide quality care anymore. Some policies and practices have been developed to address this reality, mostly at local level, but they remain largely insufficient, extremely fragmented, geographically uneven and not always sustainable.

Working across borders

In the In For Care project, ten partners from six countries have been working together on different aspects of informal care and voluntary assistance.

The cooperation with partners in other countries has added new perspectives on the problems and importance of informal caregivers as well as the opportunity to see how things are in other countries.  

“It has been rewarding to meet partners dedicated to the assignment on an international level. They are as concerned with the problem as we are. We have used each other to develop both the individual and the overall methods, processes and results. It has elevated the quality of the project,” says Lone Oest at UC SYD in Denmark.

In Denmark, three of the In For Care projects continue after project closure, including a student exhibition of volunteer organisations, an e-learning course to improve health communication, and health training for volunteers.

Social cohesion and care

In Belgium, the focus has been on social cohesion. In the city of Aalst, a travelling café lets informal carers meet others in the same situation for learning and socialising.

In Turnhout, quite novel steps have been taken to strengthen informal care and voluntary assistance between immigrants and the elderly native population.

“The area around Merode Centre in Turnhout represents a complex urban situation. Inhabitants include a large group of immigrants as well as an elderly native population, some in need of care. To encourage volunteering and informal care in this area, there is a need for mutual understanding and spaces for informal encounters between these groups”, says Katrijn Raeymaekers of the City of Turnhout.

Fifty portraits of residents in a street in Turnhout were taken by a photographer. To stimulate positive curiosity, people can also read a personal story of the resident.

“The posters are displayed in the windows of residents and local shops to create visibility. People recognise each other in the street. The portraits are also a tool to create social connectedness. An exhibition of the portratis will be organised, and a ‘reward’ will be received of their own portrait to take home”, says Raeymaekers.

Making life easier for carers

In The Netherlands, around 3.5 million people provide care for a family member. Through In For Care, a lot of steps have been taken to increase awareness of the issue and also to make life easier for the carers here and now.

Vital Informal Care in Hoogeveen is one of the In For Care activities that seeks to ease the burden of the informal carers. The programme arranges for fun activities and free gym subscription for informal carers.

Huub Delstra has a brother with a physical disability and finds it hard to combine school and caring for his brother. “I take over some tasks from my parents – Making sandwiches in the morning and picking my brother up from day care. There are so many people in this situation who can never get away from it. That’s why this is such a great solution”, says Delstra.

The work continues

Several of the partners in In For Care will continue to work together in the Interreg North Sea Region project Isolation2Inclusion (I2I), which will start in 2020. In the meantime, please take the time to explore some of the project outcomes:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Walter Wehus is a Communications Advisor at the University of Agder, Lead Beneficiary of the In For Care project.

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