Thursday, 17 May 2012

Care, Communities and Questions


I read a quote from Care Minister Paul Burstow yesterday saying “We need to reconnect care homes with their communities” and it is evident he said broadly the same thing today (Thurs) at Community Care Live.

But what does that mean?

I know I will stand accused of being a ‘naysayer’ but have care homes ever been connected to their communities?

For starters a care home should be just that, a home. One that looks after those who are no longer able to look after themselves independently and those who are living there should be treated with the same dignity, respect and privacy that everyone should expect from their own home.

So a question, how connected with the community is your home?

Chances are not at all, it is probably the place where you retreat from the community, the place where you can drop the ‘outside world’ persona we all employ and indulge yourself in your own private pleasures, where you can shut out the pressures of modern society and allow you mind to mentally recharge before stepping back through the front door into the hurly-burly of the world. Obviously not every home is a happy home and, sometimes, what happens behind closed doors is truly horrendous but in most instances the home is the place of privacy and the expression of your personal identity, the only invasion from the community is of your choosing and then probably limited to friends and families.

Then of course we come to the other question – what is a community? The definition is simply ‘a group of people living together in one place’ there is no connotation of that group being connected in any other way. How connected are you to those who live in the same street? The answer will largely depend on where you live, smaller villages tend to have greater connection than large cities but, in general, in even if you know everyone quite well it is unlikely that the community will be the focal point of your life.

Additionally the location of the care home will not necessarily reflect the community of those who live in the home but perhaps the greatest connection with the community already exists as the people working in the home are, more often than not, drawn from the immediate area.

Given all of this it seems something of a something of a meaningless platitude to call for “care homes to reconnect with their communities”

If, however, Mr Burstow means we need to reconnect those who live in the care home with their communities that is a different matter. My last blog focused on the human need for connection (Craving Connection, Fulfilling Personalisation) and, yes there does need to be greater effort made in helping people maintain the social contacts they had before moving into the care home. Our friends our an important part of how we define who we are (and of course who we are not) and by maintaining those social contacts it allows a person to ‘keep hold’ of that identity even when they are in a setting where those around them are there due to circumstance rather than choice. It is equally important that care homes develop a sense of community within the home by finding common ideas and themes that all (or at least the majority) of residents can be involved in.

However, I suspect, and I am happy to be proved wrong, what the Minister actually means is that we need to get communities involved in care homes, particularly the voluntary community who can provide services for the care home and relieve the financial burdens on the state in delivering care services.

There is certainly a case for encouraging volunteers to come into the home especially in the development of community activities within the home but they should certainly not be used as a means of financial avoidance by the state.

It has been stated recently that the ‘Big Society’ appears to be a means of Government misdirection and encouraging ‘communities’ to take over where the Government knife has wielded huge cuts but care of the most vulnerable in society should not be one of those areas and Government MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for those who need care services.