In my last post I attempted to differentiate between natural care and paid care.  As well, I offered some unromantic texture to what it means to take care of people who are dependent on us.  I ended by stating natural care is threatened by the weight of funding and policy attention directed to the paid care system.

This encroaches on the resiliency of those who offer natural care for a number of reasons.  One, it reduces the resources available for natural care.  Two, systems do not respond with flexibility and speed to the pressures families may be under.  Three, systems by doing what they do best, (standardizing) establish eligibility criteria and assessments that can delay, dehumanize and destabilize natural care. 

You cannot deliver care the way UPS delivers parcels.  Natural care is the complete opposite – customized, intuitive, messy, nurturing, tailored, emotional.  And it is what most of us want.

Natural care is also threatened by the new financial pressures governments are under.  These pressures are resulting in cutbacks to the paid care system which ironically means more pressure on natural care – family and friends.  We are at the proverbial fork in the road. Do we reform the paid care system; make it more responsive; make it more efficient – doing more with less; and lobby against reductions?  Or, do we place our emphasis on strengthening the capacity of families and friends to take care of each other?

At the risk of alienating the large number of committed and dedicated people paid to provide care, the real issue is the neglect of care givers who are family and friends.  Natural care may arise out of love but its resilience is strengthened by good public policy.  This is where we should put our emphasis.  Further we should shift our resources from the paid care system to strengthen natural care giving.

The question that should drive our policy discussions is: What would it take to make it easier for people to take care of friends and families?

If taken seriously this should be enough the unleash the creativity of families, friends, funders, policy makers, civil servants and service providers.  Here are some secondary questions:                                                     

  • What are agencies, institutions and governments doing to unintentionally reduce the ability of people to take care of each other?   
  • How can we provide resources (money; tax benefits; respite services) when required, in a way that, strengthens the resilience of natural caregivers rather than supplanting  them?                                                                  
  • If friends and family are unavailable, how can we provide relationship-based paid care?  That is, care that meets the physical needs of someone who is dependent BUT is accompanied by an intentional strategy to also address the individual's isolation and loneliness.

Care is a personal and family challenge.  It is also a societal challenge.  It is an ethic we should not take for granted.  Certainly those of us who have been recipients or have given care know the importance of love, respect and reciprocity.  And the dangers of pity and charity.  Our ethic of care should incorporate these and other concepts like resiliency, hospitality, celebration, dependency, vulnerability, contribution, belonging and transparency.(See my note below)

A statement about the importance of natural care is an important step. Let us seek such endorsement from all our political leaders.                                                                                              Let us also push for public policies and funding allocations that address the concerns, expectations, demands, hopes, and fears of people who will need ongoing care when they become dependent and those who will provide them with care. 

In subsequent posts I will profile jurisdictions where progressive policies have been implemented. Until then.  Take care.

NOTE:  Donna Thomson has written to clarify the concept of transparency:                                           If someone is giving care well, (and this is especially true in the case where the care recipient cannot express their own needs), the carer has to be in a constant state of acute watching and listening. It is this that accounts for the 'transparent self'.  That is a very vulnerable state of affairs for the good natural caregiver!                                                                                                               Thanks Donna. 

Read her full reply at the end of my previous post.