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In 2012, eight million Canadians – 25 per cent of the population! – provided care and 2.2 million Canadians received that care in their homes – most often from family.
In 2009, the estimated value of family care was more than $25 billion.
For many, caregiving is all day, 365 days a year – and their work is often invisible to others. So it’s important that carers feel their contributions are valued, in particular in their interactions with health-care professionals, their employers and other family members.
Many caregivers view what they do as a natural part of family relationships. They don’t do it for personal benefit or with the expectation of appreciation. I noticed a similar phenomenon when I spoke with a nursing home volunteer who, for this same reason, refused to attend a volunteer recognition event.
My research also suggests there may be some carers for whom praise such as, “You’re doing a great job,” or “You’re a wonderful daughter or son” can actually invoke guilt or ambivalence.
Because caring is a complex emotional experience, often connected to our identity and self-worth. When we confuse ‘caring for’ with ‘caring about,’ guilt can result. What happens, for example, when caregivers can no longer manage and face difficult decisions about institutionalization for their loved one?
Lastly, caregivers can view recognition as a trivial concern relative to the care recipient’s need for services. In this respect, any recognition of their work is unhelpful.
So what do caregivers want?
What caregivers need are accessible services for the person they’re caring for, when they need them. Caregivers have told me they want access to services for themselves and the care recipient, not a pat on the back.
Truly being aware of caregiver contributions and needs means being aware of the crucial importance of formal health-care supports and policies. Our governments could do much more in this regard.
However, being able to access sufficient, quality health-care services, such as home care for the loved one being cared for, is also important. This is what our governments must do if they truly want to support caregiving in Canada.
This doesn’t mean that when formal services are provided, family carers do less – instead, they can instead focus on different aspects of care and are then better able to preserve their sense of well-being. Caregivers could then be less frustrated by having to fight against an impermeable system to access help for their family member.
I am suspicious that the rhetoric of carer acknowledgement is used by governments to imply that they are not responsible for the provision of care – justifying further erosion of publicly-funded services.
Truly recognizing carers means providing helpful, supportive, long-term health and social care services for those who need them – as well as for their carers.
Laura Funk is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Manitoba who has studied issues of aging, unpaid and paid care work and health for more than 18 years. Some of her current research focuses on how family carers in Winnipeg navigate health and social care systems.
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