The crisis of carers paid just £1.79 an hour.


I went to renew my car insurance recently only to discover my occupation is ‘unlisted’. I was forced to telephone them and ask what I should list myself as. They decided I was either ‘unemployed’ or ‘stay at home parent’. I am neither of these! I am a full time carer but no-one seems to know we even exist!

 
I gave up a managerial position to care for my disabled son. I have a degree education and had a good career in sales. I was a home owner, had a fairly new car and I was valued. Then I had a disabled child and now all I am deemed worthy of is an hourly rate of £1.79. In reality I get much much less than that!

 
I feel utterly disgusted at how unpaid carers are treated in this country. Are people aware that carers allowance is only given out to those caring for someone 35 hours a week or more and that it is a weekly amount of just £62.70? I wish I was only working 35 hours caring but assuming this was all I worked I would still only be paid a measly £1.79 an hour! Would you work for that amount?

 
Would you work permanent night shifts dealing with someone with challenging behaviour, who is completely incontinent and has night seizures, and still have to work 12 hour days as well? Would your union not have something to say about this? What about if you had no breaks and were often attacked at work? What about if you were denied any holidays or even time off for ill health? What if sick pay was non existent? What if all your employment rights were taken away from you?

 
When I became a full time carer it appears I lost all my human rights.

 

 

I have no union to protect me and no manager to put my case to. I went from being a someone to a no-one the second I became a carer.

 
I am considered nothing by society who view me as a ‘benefit scrounger’, ‘lazy’ or nothing more than ‘unemployed’. People scoff at my ‘profession’ like it is a joke.

 
Let me tell you my job is no joke!

 
I deal with life and death with a child who has severe complex needs. I make decisions on his welfare and health needs daily that should really be made by neurologists, doctors and oncologists. I co-ordinate his care without a secretary and attend meetings without back up. I sign forms as his ‘representative’ without legal support because no-one else is bothered what happens anyway.

 
If my son should die and I updated my CV employers would simply see me as having taken a ‘career break’ or ‘time out for family’ rather than viewing my current situation as a serious job. Why? Because caring has no prestige. It is seen as worthless, less than, of no value and not beneficial to any career. Even if I wished to use my experience to take up full-time employment in the care sector my current work is of no use as I have no reference or company or courses I have completed.

 
Even the NHS view me as simply the one who pushes the wheelchair or who hands his appointment card over. When my son reaches a certain age it will be expected he will attend appointments with me waiting outside despite the fact he is completely non verbal and unable to understand what is required of him. I will have to go through a host of hoops and bureaucracy to prove as his carer I even have a right to be with him, yet anyone can have an advocate or friend with them and they are fine?

 
I gave birth to a disabled child. I gave up my career to be his carer. Apparently that means my career has hit a brick wall and I have waved goodbye to my self respect and self worth. My job title no longer even appears on a drop down list and my hourly worth is now reduced to just £1.79 an hour.

 
This is the crisis of carers in Great Britain right now.

 

 

Does anyone realise this is going on? 


Learning to be tomato

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I am blessed to have a beautiful house. It has bedrooms,  a kitchen, a bathroom and a family room. It has walls and a roof and doors. I pretty much get to choose who enters my house and I can choose to close the curtains and blinds and doors and have privacy whenever I wish.

Yet in so many other ways my life is open to all, in full view and often seems like my every move is on show. In so many ways I live in a glass house.

When my children were young babies one of them was not gaining weight as fast as they should have been. We were scheduled to have a home visit every single week by a public health visitor for the first year of my twins life. An entire year of having someone see your children at home every week. Some visits lasted up to an hour. The only concern was my daughter’s weight yet our home had to be opened for unexpected visits at all times. That was the start of one wall of my house turning to glass.

By the time my twins were 18 months we had our first referral to community paediatricians. This put us ‘in the system’ and started more home visits by speech therapists, learning support staff and nurses who all entered my house regularly. I felt like I was on show having to keep my house fit for visitors at any time while trying to raise two very young children. A second wall of my house seemed to quickly be changing to glass for everyone to watch how we were living, playing and raising our children, all because they were not reaching milestones as everyone else felt they should.

Eventually the children began nursery and we were expected to attend courses about parenting and autism and attend regular meetings with the nurseries. As wonderful as it was to learn it also opened my family up to more people, and every interaction with our children had to have a purpose and a goal and we were even videoed several times in our own home. Sometimes it really felt like we were animals being watched in a zoo by all the professionals. A third wall of my house had now changed from brick to glass. As more people saw into our lives it got hot at times and stressful. It felt like there was such a lack of shade and privacy at times.

Three glass walls are hard to handle but while one remains brick and the roof remains covered there was still time to be alone. That is until the children started school. In order for their needs to be fully met we had to enter the new arena of school support. This meant multiagency meetings, school meetings, parents nights, school diaries and homework. Right before our eyes the last of our walls changed from brick to glass and our every move seemed controlled by our children’s difficulties.

Now we are in the realm of requiring more support. As the children have grown and their needs increased things like respite, befriending and budgets are now being banded around. Where you aware of how much of your life requires to be put on the line in order to access these things? There is no ‘sign here’ and we will give you it. Assessments are thorough, long winded and often extremely personal. You have to become vulnerable, lay yourself on the line and be scrutinised constantly. You have hoops to jump through and boxes to tick. In doing so the roof of my house, my only privacy and shade left, suddenly became made of glass too.

So my beautiful house has changed from bricks and mortar to a hot, cramped and open-to-all glass house. In order to help and support my children so much of my life and privacy has had to be sacrificed.

So how do we support them through this when our house has constant professionals visiting and calling and we have so many forms to complete? How do I enable them to have a childhood free from stress and invasion when so many people are involved in their care? How do I cope living in a glass house due to my children being disabled?

We are learning to be tomatoes!

We need the support of schools, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, speech therapists and others besides in order to fully support our children. That means opening up our home, our lifestyle and our ways to many people. So we are going to use this to our advantage.

Tomatoes thrive in a glass house. While everyone watches on they grow, mature and become ripe due to the intense heat and pressure of living in that environment. Tomatoes are sweet, balanced and healthy despite being subjected to intense heat. They are versatile and popular.

Glass house living when you are raising children who have challenges is difficult, but by becoming tomatoes we can use our unusual circumstances to refresh others in many ways from soups, drinks, sandwiches or even tomato ketchup!

Sometimes I feel cut up or squashed but however you look at it I am blessed.

I am blessed to live in a beautiful house even if at times it seems like it is made of glass instead of bricks.

When other people get involved

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The uniforms are bought, the bags packed, and the children prepared to once again start a new term at school. It is with great anxiety and fear that once again I release my children into the hands of others to be looked after and educated for six hours a day, five days a week.

For the last seven and a half weeks I have pretty much been with them both 24/7 and even though that has brought pressure and stress at times, it has also been a relief to not have to deal with other people and schools for a while.

Now that is all about to end.

Once again other people are about to get involved in my life.

When other people get involved…

1. It is easy to feel like a failure.
While I know my children have thrived this summer under my care there will be teachers and therapists within my children’s schools who will only see the fact that their development has not been stretched perhaps as much as the would have liked, or they have not been challenged educationally or encouraged to socialise with others their own age enough.
Then there is the fact other families will stand in the school playground boasting of holidays abroad, play dates with friends and new skills their children mastered over the summer which my children may never achieve.
Being around other children the same age as mine and seeing what they can do and say has a way of making me feel like an utter failure within minutes, even if unintended.

2. Everything suddenly becomes a big stress.
In summer we ate when we were hungry, if we wanted to have pizza for lunch instead of dinner we did. We ate out now and again, we took packed lunches and went out for day trips and we had fish and chips at the end of a busy day. But now my children are returning to school where one barely eats and drinks and now food will become a huge stress again.
Now the professionals are back involved there is also an expectation to ‘move the children on’ in areas they have become stuck at and we are expected to follow “proven” methods or be criticised even when these may not be right for our child. Stress!

3. The pressure to perform becomes huge.
Did anyone care if my son wore an un-ironed t-shirt last week? Returning to school brings with it a pressure to have children dressed smartly, in uniform, and arriving on time, having eaten healthily and slept well. All of those things are major challenges for my children with sleep difficulties, sensory issues, limited diets and no understanding of time. Forgetting homework, leaving the packed lunch at home or not remembering PE kit has you instantly marked down as a terrible mother and raises my daughters anxiety to a level that makes her ill. There is pressure to keep up with the other children in the class and do weekly activities too. Having other people involved in caring for your children puts so much pressure on us all.

4. I lose knowledge that is vital to communicate with my children.
My son is non verbal and both my children have social and communication difficulties (autism). Being with them all summer has meant we have learnt to understand each other. My son would only need to find a photograph to show me and I would immediately know what he was trying to communicate because I was there with him and I know what he enjoyed. When other people get involved I lose that vital connection and no school diary or ten second talker can make up for the fact I am not with my child and therefore I have no knowledge of what he is trying to communicate. He may have heard a song at school he wants to hear again and I am expected to just ‘know’ and because I don’t we have hours of self harming, frustration and upset all round.
Neither of my children can properly communicate to others when they are hurt or where. Neither will adequately communicate when personal needs require to be met or that a food may make them feel sick. This is the bit I hate: that not knowing and having missing pieces that they can not explain to me and I have no means of working out.

I know there are some advantages of having other people involved though. It is important my children become more flexible and less rigid in insisting only I can meet their needs. They also do need to learn independence even if they will require support throughout their life. There is also the fact that having some professional involvement can actually help by bringing new ideas, support me and help access resources that can make a difference. We just need to learn to communicate, trust and work together.

I need to let go. After almost eight weeks with my children that is hard. But for my children’s sake and my own it really is important…

To let other people get involved.

Am I doing the right thing?

Self evaluation is a very positive skill to have. All good parents stop and think at times ‘am I doing the right thing’ right from the very moment their child is born. Decisions about wether to breast or bottle feed, what sort of clothes to put on your baby and where they will sleep are all everyday personal decisions all parents face. And there will always be others who feel you are doing it wrong.

But what if your children are not meeting milestones? Or they receive a diagnosis of any sort that makes ‘normal’ development more of a challenge? What should be a time of needing more support and encouragement often becomes not only the time when others judge and question you more, but it also brings with it an even greater level of self-doubt as a parent.

Did I do anything wrong when pregnant? Was my birth to blame? Did I feed my baby the wrong foods or give them inoculations that damaged them? Should I not have gone back to work so early? Did I not bond with them enoughh or sing to them the right songs?

So many of us have been there. I have too. And even though my twins are now 6 I am still asking myself almost daily ‘am I doing the right thing’?

It seems that at times I am controversial without even meaning to be. Even blogging publicly about my children seems to make some people feel I am damaging them. I am not naive. I am well aware that one day my children could read my blog. In fact I will be letting them both have a copy when the time is right. This is my journey but it is very much their journey too. I actually hope having a written record of how far they have come is helpful to them in their own way as they begin to understand more and question who they are and what their diagnosis means to them. Naomi aimagealready shows much more awareness and we talk together about her autism, her brothers autism and her brother’s neurofibromatosis. I don’t believe in hiding these issues from her and there is not one blog I would be embarrassed for my children to read one day.

Naomi has recently been assessed and approved for a wheelchair. I never really thought that would be controversial either. No-one seemed to question when her brother got one months ago but somehow because she can talk, she can walk and she attends mainstream school it seems that I am ‘making’ her disabled by putting her in a chair. Maybe I am more vocal about her brothers difficulties, maybe they are more obvious than hers, or maybe the fact he attends a special needs school seems to make it more ‘acceptable’ for him to use a wheelchair. But Naomi has her own struggles and I am not pushing her to use a wheelchair if she is not comfortable doing so. I have asked myself many times if I am doing the right thing pushing her around places where she may be seen by others in her school or community. I know the impact this could have on her far more than she understandimages at just 6. But her safety, her pain level and her comfort also must be taken into consideration. And whether she is in a wheelchair or walking she will sadly always come across people who will stare, laugh and bully. It is my job to help her cope with this as she grows and develops greater awareness.

My son loves lifts and hand dryers. He craves them much like a smoker craves a cigarette. And so I take him to them. And I let him press the button to turn the dryer on or call the lift for someone. It brings him huge delight. And the majority of people I meet are happy to let him have that pleasure. But the other side of this is that sometimes in life we go into a shop and we have no need to use the lift or the dryers and therefore his sensory craving can not be met. And that results in meltdown of epic proportion. And then I once again question myself ‘am I doing the right thing?’ Do I allow him to have his craving in small amounts to allow me to achieve other things I want, or do I insist on carrying on with my business and that he has to learn that life is not always about him? Everyone has their own opinion on this and people will judge the fact I have deliberately taken him to retail parks just to see lifts and not buy anything. It is a balancing act and I have to live with my son and my decision. So I do what is right for me and him and my family.

People may be shocked to know I have resorted to feeding my six-year-old baby food at times just to get her to eat. I have allowed both twins dummies way beyond an age where it is publicly acceptable, and I have seen to their personal hygiene needs from the back of a car many a time. And just yesterday I took my eyes off my son for a second and found him alone in a supermarket lift (he is non verbal and could have been anywhere!).

Everyday is a challenge. Everyday I am making decisions based on today’s needs and tomorrow’s future. I live for today but am very aware of the future repercussions that my actions may have on both my children.

And I know I may get it wrong. And so will you.

Because I am human. As as a mum I have the future of two very special children in my hands. I take that very seriously.

It is ok to disagree with me. It is ok to worry about how things I do now may affect my children’s future. It’s even ok to do something different with your own children.

Just know I love my children. And I am doing what I feel is best for them. Both now and in the future. And every single day without fail I am thinking to myself ‘am I doing the right thing here’ because my children never came with a manual. None of them do. And when they have extra support needs that makes things so much more complicated.

Am I doing the right thing? Time will tell I guess.

Missing the bigger picture

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‘How will that impact on his sister?’, I asked at yet another meeting.
‘We are here to talk about Isaac’, was the reply.
This is the reality of life with more than one child.
In my case both my children have additional support needs, but even if my daughter was ‘typical’ developing she should still be considered when it comes to matters of her brother. The impact on her is just as big, and at times even bigger, than on her brother.
It is all too easy to say, for example, that we have to let one scream, harm himself and cry for hours on end as he tries to push boundaries and test limits. But how does that affect his sister? Or us? Would professionals be able to hear a sibling, or their own child, someone they love dearly, cry in distress for hours and not be effected?

I wish therapists would stop missing the bigger picture.

‘Sorry, we are not able to increase the allocation of supplies despite medical support.’
Another disappointing call updating us on an ongoing challenge we have been having.
People in an office, looking at limited facts on a screen, making a decision based on only the details of that one child with no thought to how this will affect an entire family, and beyond. My son is a number to them. To me he is a precious individual who deserves dignity, respect and to have his basic needs met.

I wish services would stop missing the bigger picture.

A recent visit to a medical practitioner with my children left me with some ‘projects’ to work on over the summer. The only problem is that both children have ‘projects’ that, while increasing their development and skills and helping their medical conditions, they will also both require huge amounts of time and support from me. I also need to be very mindful of the fact summer should be a time of fun, and making memories, and that my children will grow all too quickly. It is very easy for doctors and nurses to suggest health care plans, or developmental milestones to try to achieve, or even to give timetables to implement programmes of therapies. I smile, and leave with yet more literature while thinking all the time, ‘what about my other child?’. My time is not exclusive to one child, even if their needs would call for this, and I also have a house to run and a husband who needs me too. Seven weeks might seem a huge chunk of time to medical trained professionals but it can pass in the blink of an eye when I take into consideration hospital appointments, days out, quality time and household duties.

I wish professionals would stop missing the bigger picture.

End of term is bringing some challenges too, not least the fact my twins attend different schools with very different calendars of activities. The pressure to attend two different sports days, end of term assemblies and prize givings, services and summer fairs can seen rather overwhelming. How do you choose when dates clash? How do you fit in homework, or juggle after school activities with the extra needs that having a disabled child brings. A few times recently I have sent my daughter to school without her reading book, or her packed lunch, or her PE kit. And when school calls I am expected to leave everything to get these things to her, even in the midst of caring duties to her brother. Sometimes I am miles away in meetings, driving or simply changing a nappy. Each school sees one child. And they forget the family is much bigger than that one child.

I wish schools would stop missing the bigger picture.

It is easy for us all to see one thing in isolation: a child crying, a struggling mum, someone sitting alone in a cafe looking out the window. It is all too easy to hear noise from the house next door and come to the wrong conclusion, or berate someone for not keeping their garden tidy when the weather seems nice. Without realising we can be quick to judge or form an opinion, even when we have no knowledge of the background, or circumstances of someone else.

I have lost count the amount of comments I have had on my children because they ‘look fine’ or because they won’t reply to them or give eye contact. People are very quick to comment on the fact my children still use a dummy for bed, or wear nappies or carry a comfort cloth around. There is more going on than you think.

Let’s not be guilty of missing the bigger picture.

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Pass it along…and leave it to mum

imageWhat qualifications did I need to become a mum? Very little, if any.

Teachers study for years, as do speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists.

I am just a mum. I don’t mean that in any way to put down what I do. But my role is very different to the specialists named above. My job is to love, nurture, support, encourage and guide my children to become the best that they can be in life.

For my children with additional support needs that means I will be changing nappies much longer than average, still teaching basic sounds and numbers long after others, and spending that bit longer supporting my children (possibly way into adulthood). That I can, and am happy, to do. I will happily spend my evenings singing nursery rhymes, playing board games and doing homework. I have no issue with cooking, cleaning, washing and other seemingly mundane house hold chores.That is what being a parent entails.

But increasingly I feel I am being asked to be way more than a parent to my children.

As financial pressures increase upon the services my children depend upon to support them, there is a current trend of ‘pass it along’. Basically for so many professionals their time with my child is very restricted. Their roles are goal oriented where after a few sessions it is expected they can record progress and show they are making a difference. Then they show me how to do what they have started and move on.

So for example, the speech therapist may visit and introduce some basic visuals. He or she may check my son or daughter appears to understand, then proceed to give me a quick demonstration and hey presto…they vanish off the scene leaving me to do their job! They have little choice really. They have referrals coming out their ears and fewer resources at their disposal. So ‘pass it along and leave it to mum’ is the only way for them to survive.

So now I am a parent and suddenly a speech therapist too. That adds a bit of pressure.

My daughter was finally seen by a physiotherapist this week. She was lovely and very thorough. We now have a much clearer understanding of some of my daughter’s physical difficulties. More referrals will now be made (the hospitals must think we have a season ticket!). When I asked specifically where we go from here I was told that hopefully someone can show the school some exercises and we will also be sent leaflets full of things to do at home too. No time to come and teach me. It is expected I will be able to work it out myself, without all their years of specialist training. No time, no resources, not enough staff. Pass it on; discharge.

So now I am a parent, a speech therapist and now a physiotherapist too? I can sense the washing pile mounting up more and more!

The occupational therapist came this week too. Her case load is more than some schools have on their entire role! There was insufficient time (as usual) to complete the paperwork she wanted to do that day so a pile was left for me to complete as soon as possible. And of course she left us with more practical ideas to support the children. No time to teach but ‘the sheets will explain’…where have I heard that before?

Now I am a parent, a speech therapist, a physiotherapist, and an occupational therapist!

Do I really need to tell you what sort of thing the psychologist meeting was about? I think you get the picture!

Of course I could easily chose just to default and be ‘simply’ mum. But the reason my children were referred and accepted by all these professionals is because there was a need for their services. Their input could apparently ‘add value’ to my children’s lives. They could apparently help us.

So while I am left with not only the raw emotions of finding out my child has yet more physical issues and needs, and passed to yet more health professionals and departments, I am also forced to take on roles I am neither qualified or trained to do.

And when it all unravels and my child still can’t talk or use visuals in years to come, or my daughter is still unable to carry out certain physical tasks or is still crippled by anxiety who will accept responsibility?

They will say the have done their best. They did exactly what the system expected them to do. They passed it along…and left it with mum.

Meanwhile poor mum has little time left just to be a mum. She is far too busy trying to be the professional needed for her children.

It’s just she has no-one left to pass it all along to.

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The benefit of living with disability

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Disability can seems so negative at times: Professionals discuss what your child struggles with, doctors talk about what is ‘wrong’ and disability forms focus on all the things your child is not able to do. Education, health and social work see your child’s needs as ‘costly’ and therefore we have to fight for everything. Is it any wonder so many parents of disabled children struggle with depression and lack of enthusiasm?

I could easily join them. The lack of sleep, constant phone calls and paperwork and a diary full of meetings could steal the joy from me. The fact my almost 6 year old son has no speech and both him and his twin sister are still wearing nappies could have me begging my doctor for antidepressants. I could grieve for the children I dreamed of having. I could get bitter and angry at the injustice of it all. I could spend my days hiding from the world hoping all the children’s difficulties will disappear if no-one sees them.

But I can not go there. I have to keep my head above the water; for my sake and for my children’s sake. I am not writing this to make people think that disability is wonderful, nor am I writing this to make those who are struggling with the reality of life feel even worse. I am writing this for me: because I need to hear this everyday. On the days when I could run away, the days when my son screams endlessly and self harms, on the days when it seems we are getting nowhere fast. Even on those days there ARE positives. It is just harder to see them in the daily grind that is looking after children who require much more time and attention than others.

So here goes:

Benefit number 1: My heart is much more compassionate because I live with disability.
Not only is my heart more compassionate but so is my 5 year old daughter’s. She recently started school where two of the children in her class only speak Russian. There is no interpreter and naturally the children are struggling. Where other children are finding it challenging to understand the frustration and problems these children face my daughter has been a real friend to them holding their hand and sharing with them and communicating love without words. She struggles herself with severe anxiety and living with a non verbal brother she has had to understand the importance of non verbal communication so well. Her brother has taught her that love needs to words.
Before I had my children I thought I was a decent person. But there is something so humbling about facing a struggle yourself that opens your heart to others who are also struggling. Their struggle may be so different from yours but you understand that need for others to support you and help you. Living with disability opens your eyes to a non perfect world full of others struggling along too. And it opens a door into their lives because you can say ‘I understand’. And that is precious.

Benefit number 2: I appreciate life because I live with disability.
When you suddenly need health services and therapists, support workers and social workers, when someone else is willing to change your child’s soiled nappy for you; you learn true gratitude. Yes there are times when we have issues with professionals and we disagree on the best way forward. But the fact they are there to disagree with in the first place is such a blessing. My children could have been born into a country with little resources to support them and no suitable education available to meet their needs. Things may not be perfect but everyone who plays a role in my children’s lives suddenly becomes an angel to me. I appreciate feeling the wind and rain on my skin because there are families so much worse off than me for whom their disabled child is in hospital right now unable to feel that rain. I realise how blessed I am daily when I am in a world surrounded by children for whom every day is precious. Hearing of a child in my sons school getting ‘star of the week’ for simply opening his eyes is something that deeply affected me. Who am I to complain? I got to kiss my children good night tonight and that is precious.

Benefit number 3: I understand hope because I live with disability.
I used to think hope was dreaming of getting a well paid job and marrying someone tall, dark and handsome. Hope was looking for a better future and the positive feeling that things would always get better. But when you live with disability hope goes much deeper. Hope for me is seeing my son struggle daily to try and communicate without speech but still in the midst of that believing one day he will be able to say real understandable words. Hope was hearing doctors say they had no idea when my son would walk but buying him shoes to wear knowing one day he would have them on his feet when he walked in the garden. Hope right now is buying a t-shirt in his size in anticipation that one day soon he will want to wear something other than his beloved red school jumpers. Hope is never giving up. Hope is believing my children can achieve and stirring others into that confidence too. Hope is precious.

I could write so many more benefits. I could talk about all the amazing families I have met through being catapulted into the realm of disability. I could mention the charities who have supported me and how this has changed my entire outlook on giving to others. I could talk about how my circle of friends has increased greatly through having disabled children, how having disabled children has helped me be a better, more emotional writer. But these are all for another blog. And another day.

I just want you to know that even when things are so tough and real issues scream at you in the face daily, there is always hope. We can appreciate life and open our heart to others. My children are making me a better person. Even in their struggles there are so many benefits to living with disability. I just need to remind myself to keep on looking for them daily.