I started working in Adult Social Care four years ago, and almost immediately I felt at home. As a Support Worker for unpaid carers, I visited people at home, having received referrals from the community nursing team I was based in. Spending time with carers, finding out what mattered to them, and the impact of their caring role was hugely humbling.
Often carers put the person they care for before their own needs, and as a result a key aspect of my role was to encourage carers to take some time for themselves, whether this was to do some shopping, access training, or attend their own medical appointments, let alone having some actual time off.
Working with carers, by definition my role supported people who “had someone”. That “someone” however, was not always the person you might expect. As well as spouses and partners, family members and adult children – not to mention young carers – I met with a number of neighbours, friends, and ex-partners in caring roles. In short, I learned pretty quickly not to assume what a support network might look like, or to assume support networks where they may not exist.
And here’s the challenge. Even if – and this is a huge if – individual practitioners are tuned in to asking “What informal support might be in place” rather than, “Don’t you have children who can help?” for example, both health and social care lean heavily on assumed informal networks. The inconvenient – and sad – truth is simply that not everyone has someone.
So what’s the antidote to assumption? Without oversimplifying, to find out what really matters to someone and what support network may or may not be in place, open and honest questions need to be asked, and always with sensitivity. To assume support where it does not exist, or may be present but fragile is surely a false economy. Not everyone has someone, but without exception everyone matters. Meet people where they are, and take it from there.