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Do you look after someone who couldn’t cope without your support?

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Today is Carers Rights Day – a national event run every year to help ensure unpaid carers are aware of their rights, to let them know where to get help and support and to raise awareness of their needs.

New figures suggest there are currently around 135,000 people in Devon who are unpaid carers, and for those that need support, we’re here to help.

An unpaid carer is anyone who looks after a friend, family member or neighbour who due to old age, illness, disability, addiction or physical or mental illness, cannot cope without their support.

‘Looking after’ can mean helping with things like shopping, domestic tasks, emotional assistance and personal care.

Becoming a carer can happen gradually or it may have been a sudden change in circumstances.

Anyone could be an unpaid carer – a 15-year-old girl looking after a parent with alcohol dependency, a 40-year-old man caring for his partner who has cancer, or an 80-year-old woman looking after her husband who has dementia, providing that they are not a volunteer or a paid care worker.

Although for many carers, caring is a positive and rewarding experience, many find it easier to continue in their caring role if they can get some support.

One local unpaid carer we spoke, who wishes to remain anonymous, to said: 

“Initially my manager helped me recognise myself as a carer. This was a huge step for me. It still doesn’t sit well, and I prefer to think of myself as a supporter of family rather than carer.   

“My husband had heart surgery during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we had to isolate before and after his operation. During this time, I was able to work from home, which gave me flexibility to support my husband and ensure I wasn’t mixing with others in the community.   

“My husband is doing better but the support I now need to give to my parents has increased. They live over 100 miles away so most of the support I give them is over the phone or online in the evenings. My employer has allowed me to compress my working week to a nine-day fortnight. This means I can visit my parents, care for them and then travel home. This gives me so much more flexibility and that extra day makes such a difference to my fatigue levels.   

“Through reaching out to Devon Carers I understand my rights as a carer and have a Carer’s Passport. If it hadn’t had been for my husband’s illness, I don’t think I would be in this position of flexibility. The initial conversation held with my manager focussed on what they needed to do to support me. This made me feel so valued and made a big difference. My manager still regularly checks in and asks me about how everything is going. 

“Most people in a similar position do not recognise themselves as carers. If you still working and being a carer at the same time, I would recommend that you talk to your manager about any care and support they need to give you and the impact this may have on your work.  

“People need help to change the mindset of being it being part of being a partner, a parent and rephrase themselves as “care-giver” or “support-giver”. Sometimes it takes a manager to do this. Devon Carers were great, and I was able to gain support where I needed it, when I was finding it difficult.”

This story isn’t unique. It’s one of thousands for the people across Devon working around the clock as unpaid carers to help and care for relatives and friends who couldn’t manage on their own.  In partnership with NHS Devon, we commission Devon Carers to provide information, advice and support to help these people in their caring role, and we’re urgently appealing to anyone who thinks they might be an unpaid carer to get in touch to learn more about their rights.  

Councillor James McInnes, our Cabinet Member for Integrated Adult Social Care and Health said: 

“Since the coronavirus pandemic more people are caring for loved ones than ever before, and for some which can feel quite overwhelming.

“Many people won’t even think of themselves as carers because the person they are looking after is a relative but caring can bring a whole host of responsibilities and worries and which can often have a real impact on a carer’s health and wellbeing.

“On Carers Rights Day we are recognising the contribution that unpaid carers make in Devon and encourage them to contact Devon Carers where they can access much-needed support and ensure they understand their rights.”

It’s not only adults. Children and young people in Devon also share caring responsibilities for their loved ones, and Devon Young Carers is there to support them.

We spoke to the parent of a young carers about the support they have received from Devon Young Carers. They said:

“We were put in touch with Devon Young Carers who provided one to one support sessions outside in our garden to my eldest daughter.

“She started off being very shy but gradually became more engaged. During the time she had the sessions her support worker noticed that she was able to express herself most freely during role play and drama activities. Her support worker suggested that we might think about looking into drama classes for her. We had never considered this before and before long I had found one, albeit on Zoom, that she was happy to try. 

“Fast forward to 2022 and drama is a huge passion of hers. She continues with weekly classes, has performed in three shows with significant speaking parts and is taking part in a week long drama workshop this summer. This has hugely helped with her confidence and self-expression as a young carer. All of this would a have been unimaginable before Devon Young Carers seeded this idea with us.

“For her to have the one to one support from Devon Young Carers during a time of family crisis was invaluable. It helped her feel seen and attended to at a time when most of our energy had to go on her sister.

We are extremely grateful that Devon Young Carers took a progressive and practical approach in this situation and provided desperately needed support.”     

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Schools said:

“On Carers Rights Day we want to acknowledge young carers. They do a magnificent job, are valued and we are committed to supporting them.

“Many young people don’t realise they’re carers as they help to look after a family member, and they often put others needs before their own. This can result in young carers feeling worried and isolated.

“But support is available, so please get in touch. Devon Young Carers is on hand to help you to understand your rights as a carer, tips on looking after yourself and they can put you in touch with other carers to help support you.” 

Free information and advice fair on Thursday 24 November

Devon Carers are hosting a free Information and advice fair specifically for unpaid carers on Thursday 24 November from 10am until 4pm at the Exeter Corn Exchange in Market Street.

Joining advisors from Devon Carers are other organisations who are offering information about the services which will be beneficial to people in their caring role, including Citizens Advice Exeter, COSY Routes Exeter, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, Devon Young Carers, Exeter Dementia Action Alliance, the Independent Living Centre, South West Autism, Talkworks, Time For You and Westbank. 

If you have any questions or are looking for information or advice about caring, your rights as a carer or how you can be supported, pop along to chat with them over refreshments. 

The event will also hold a pop-up vaccine hub from 11am to 2pm for any carers who need their COVID-19 vaccination booster. There is no need to book, however, there will be limited vaccine supplies.  

For more information about the event, please visit the Devon Carers website.

Who to contact

Support for adult carers is available through Devon Carers via their website or by calling 03456 434 435.

For more information about support for young people aged four to 18 years old who help look after someone in their family, or a friend, who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs and alcohol, please contact Devon Young Carers via their website, or by emailing or calling 03456 434 435.

For more information about support for parent carers with disabled children (up to the age of 18 years old) please contact our Disabled Children’s Service Helpline on 01392 385276 or for more information about Parent Carer Needs Assessment, please visit our website.