According to the Carers Act (2008), a carer is defined as a person who provides ongoing care in a non-contractual and unpaid capacity (www.legislation.qld.gov.au). When I read this definition it becomes apparent to me that firstly, the role of a carer is for an undefined period of time but in reality this usually means a life time commitment.
Secondly, the commitment to such a task will not provide an income. For most Australians who enter the workforce, nothing could be more foreign than working in a non-contractual and unpaid capacity. According to Carer Australia, it is estimated that in 2010, carers provided 1.32 billion hours of unpaid care (www.national.careaustralia.com.au).
The role of caring for a person with a disability will be a life-time commitment. Carers must provide ongoing care regardless of the need for holidays, time out, financial pressures, a desire for change and the list goes on. Ongoing care must feel very long in the tooth when you find yourself caring year after year. Long suffering requires tenacity, patience and an ability to endure unhappiness without complaint.
For most situations in life that I know, a little bit of pain is bearable. But when this pain or state of unhappiness stretches out for a long time, most people will want to quit. For example, people who are unhappy in their workplaces will eventually start looking for a new job. Generally, when we are unhappy with our circumstances we will seek to change them.
As a carer though, the option for quitting is simply not there. Whether driven by love or driven by duty, carers are required to resolve within themselves that providing care for a loved one is a long term commitment.
In Australia, there seems to be a strong voice acknowledging that people with a disability and their families and carers need more support. Families caring for a loved one are struggling with physical, emotional and financial stress. It is expected that an "economic crisis" looms because families are becoming less willing and able to provide unpaid care.
Moreover, we have an aging population, many of whom are caring for an adult child with a disability. However, at a government level, discussions of a National Disability Insurance Scheme appear to be gaining favourable attention. The scheme aims to benefit all Australians because disability can affect anyone, any time (www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au).
Carers speak volumes to me because of their actions. They are patient and demonstrate kindness. They bear a lot and do not seek their own selfish ambitions. Carers believe in the ones they care for, hope for their improvement and endure all things. Carers walk the walk of love as written about in 1 Corinthians 13.
Having watched a family member care for someone else her whole life, I have learnt how others can make a small yet significant difference to families of people with a disability:
1. Simply show a genuine interest, ask how the carer is managing.
2. Embrace the person with a disability into your own family. It's ok to feel uncomfortable at first but everyone needs friends. In a while, you'll feel more confident about how to interact with that person.
3. A burdened shared is a burden halved, find out how you can help.
4. Shout the carer out for coffee, a movie, a break. Offer to care in his/her place for an hour or two.
5. Care for the carer. Carers have needs too.
6. Don't forget about the carer. Stay in touch, a phone call could be all that it takes to encourage someone and let them know they are doing a great job.
Half a million people in Australia are the primary carers of a person with a disability. More than 2 million are secondary carers who share the load of caring. (ABS, 2004).
We cannot ignore carers any more.
Natalie Alexander is a primary school and special needs teacher who lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband. She also has a heart for humanitarian needs both locally and internationally.
Natalie's archive articles may be viewed at www.presserviceinternational.org/natalie-alexander.html