Why can it be difficult to decide whether or not a person is an informal carer and does it matter

It is important to identify if someone is an informal carer or not; however this is a difficult decision to make as the change can have a huge impact on peoples lives. It can be a relief for some people to be recognised as it gives access to help and support they need. For others the stigma of being a carer can make them feel like less of a person, so because everyone is different it needs to be a decision that is right for the person involved.

I care for my 5-year-old son Harry who has been diagnosed with a severe learning disability. He is a lovely little boy but most of the time very difficult to manage. It is very hard to take him out, as he has no sense of danger. The help I could get as Harry’s carer could definitely improve our way of life from what it is now. However, until now I had no idea I was doing anything other than being a devoted mother to her son. I do, do most of the things that are listed in ‘Parker and Lawton’s what informal carers do’. (Parker and Lawton, unit 1, p.16).

When making a decision about who is or is not an informal carer, there are four complications to consider. The first of these complications are interdependence. This is not something our family have as me and my partner care for Harry and interdependence means there would have to be more caring responsibilities by other family members. There’s a good example of this is the case of Katrina. ‘Although Katrina’s mother depends on Katrina for some of her own needs and the needs of the younger children, she also cares for Katrina in that she is legally and financially responsible for her. She is also able to give love, advice and support… [so] there is apparently a ‘role reversal’. (Unit 1, P.21)

The second complication is duration and frequency and applies to ‘a person who both is the main carer and also spends 20 hours a week or more on caring’. (Unit 1, p.19). This would mean I would fit these criteria as I care for Harry day and night and the days can be very long. When deciding about informal carers this does not take into account the situation of Lynne Durrant (unit 1, p18) and her father. She is not his main carer, although she probably does care for him more than 20 hours a week. She cannot be his main carer as her disabilities affect how much care she can give and some of the things that would be required she cannot do for her father. I feel that the care she does provide should be taken into account and deserves to be recognised.

The third complication is labelling. This is a powerful word and has a big impact on how people see themselves. For me I have always tried to see my son as my little boy who is special. I know that the label he is given is to help him through his life and to give him the help and support he requires. This is the same of an informal carer; recognition of this can open the doors to all kinds of help and support. Yet for some people it is belittling, so to give someone the label ‘informal carer’ is difficult and has to be right for that person.

The last of the four complications are networks. Harry has a network of people involved in his care that include a speech therapist, infant mental health worker, special needs co-ordinator, learning support assistant and the list has become endless. However, when deciding about informal carer’s these people play a big part in Harry’s life and should be recognised for this. Still on a daily basis I care for Harry almost all of the time, so although these people help Harry it does not help the stress in our lives at home. Yet without our network of help, life would be a lot harder.

Looking at these complications, I am not recognised as an informal carer but maybe I should be. If I had this label, it wouldn’t change the way I see Harry, or myself but it would open doors to help and support that is much needed. I do not think I would be easily recognised as I am just seen as a mother doing her duty. I think the reason it’s hard to define informal carer’s is because every person has their own opinion of what a carer is and what it means to be given this label, and that means making a decision to recognise an informal carer is a difficult one to get right.