According to Carers UK there are 6.5 million people in this country supporting a loved one who is elderly, disabled or seriously ill. There’s no data that estimates how many adult or young carers are in the armed forces community, but these national statistics would suggest that there could be a significant number. AFF’s health & additional needs specialist, Karen Ross, explores further…
Jo has been an army wife for 24 years and is mum to Harry, who is 19. He has significant additional needs and requires constant support and care.
During the first part of the COVID-19 lockdown, Jo had been caring for him alone. She says: “My husband was deployed to support the work on the Bristol Nightingale Hospital and my daughter is a nurse, so was also working.
“Usually Harry attends a special school and receives respite care, but under lockdown this all stopped. I felt isolated and mentally drained.”
It was some relief over the summer when support workers, using full PPE, started to take Harry out in his wheelchair for an hour four days a week.
“That hour is a blessing and we both look forward to it, it’s good for Harry to spend time away from the home both mentally and physically,” adds Jo.
Harry finished full-time education over the summer and will now transition into adult services. “This in itself is a stressful time,” explains Jo. “Add the pandemic into the mix and it has bought a whole new set of issues, but there is light at the end of the lockdown tunnel.”
So where can you get help?
Look out for local organisations near you. Carer Support Wiltshire, for example, runs Courage to Care, a two-year Covenant-funded project. It ran cafés in Tidworth, Larkhill and Bulford which were well supported and were just becoming established when lockdown began. In the meantime, they have been running virtual sessions and have also offered online counselling to some families who have particularly struggled through lockdown.
Look out for details via the HIVE, local Facebook groups or at carersupportwiltshire.co.uk
If you have a caring responsibility for anyone in the armed forces community who has a chronic condition, life-limiting or life-changing illness or disability, you and your soldier can tap into support from the Chronic Conditions and Disability in Defence (CanDiD) network.
Gill Charlton, who is one of the service family and carer advocates, explains: “All the advocates working for the CanDiD network are volunteers and do this alongside their normal military duties. We offer limited advocacy support, signposting and we encourage peer-to-peer support.”
The CanDiD network website is coming soon. In the meantime, join the Facebook group or follow @af_candid on Twitter.
Commitment to carers
Look out for an invite to the ‘commitment to carers armed forces’ event next year. All being well, it will take place on 11 March at the Oval Cricket Ground, London. It aims to raise awareness of carers and serving personnel, and family members who have a caring role will be invited to share their experiences with the third sector, cross-government representatives and policy makers.
Event organiser Paula Cruise is the NHS England and NHS Improvement Senior Project Manager for young carers and carers in the armed forces. She says: “Lived experience presented at the last two forces events were very powerful and well received.”
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Families fighting on
The Forces Additional Needs and Disability Forum (FANDF) gives a voice to those of you who have a family member with additional needs and disability. Its recent survey helped to gain a more in-depth understanding of what your issues are and shaped its 30th anniversary report: Families Fighting On.
The report acknowledges that significant numbers of carers within the armed forces community develop mental health issues. FANDF has recommended that an in-depth investigation of the impact on armed forces carers should be carried out. Find out more via ssafa.org.uk or join FANDF on Facebook.
Make a claim
You could get £67.25 a week carers’ allowance if you care for someone for at least 35 hours a week. Go to gov.uk/carers-allowance
A carer passport could help you strike the right balance between work and care. Check whether your employer runs the scheme or encourage them to set one up at carerpassport.uk
Action for Carers: Carol.Owttrim@actionforcarers.org.uk
Military Families Lead, Suffolk Family Carers: email@example.com
The Children’s Society
NHS Carer’s assessments
Help at home from a carer: search homecare at nhs.uk
National Network of Parent Carer Forums