Opinion social care Wellbeing

It’s a family affair

Helen Wildbore, Director, Care Rights UK

Helen Wildbore, Director at Care Rights UK, a charity focused on defending the rights of people in care, discusses the role of families in promoting wellbeing for friends and relatives in care.

The wellbeing of people living in care will no doubt be front and centre of your service design and delivery. But making this a reality when services are so stretched can sometimes be challenging. Often the role of friends and family in promoting wellbeing can be overlooked. Here we share some thoughts and tips on what we hear via our helpline – 30 years of supporting people needing care and their families has given the charity some insights into what works and pitfalls to avoid.

Getting to know you

As we all know, a key part of good care planning is getting to know the person; their likes, dislikes, preferences, wishes, needs. Understanding who is most important in their lives is also vital. Relationships are central to emotional and mental wellbeing. Care staff play a key role in helping maintain relationships, by welcoming relatives and friends. Letting everyone know that promoting their right to family life is fundamental to your approach will start things off on a positive note.

Taking some time to get to know friends and relatives will also help staff:

  • Understanding what role they played before the person moved into care, and the role they would like to play now, will help you to frame your discussions
  • Respecting these roles and clearly recording them in the care plan will help to avoid any misunderstandings
  • People may rely on family and friends for different things – such as advocating their wishes, help with finances, support for health appointments – respecting the nuances of these roles can help avoid confusion or miscommunications
  • Understanding who the person trusts as their eyes/ears/voice for support will help you know who should be kept informed and consulted about their health and care

On the latter, we are calling for a change in law to create a new right to a Care Supporter. This would make it easier for health and care staff to know who a person has chosen as their vital support network. Visit our website to find out how you can support this campaign: https://www.carerightsuk.org/glorias-law

Meeting your legal duties

Of course, promoting wellbeing and relationships is not just a ‘nice to do’ but a core part of your legal duties to residents (Care Act, Human Rights Act). Some will need (or want) the support of loved ones to communicate information crucial to their care plan – the people who know them best can help with knowledge, memory and the confidence to speak up. If a person has been assessed as lacking capacity on a particular decision, consulting their relatives and friends is central to making a bests interests decision (Mental Capacity Act).

Things change

Of course, things will change – preferences, health and care needs. Relatives and friends who know the person best can help you to spot changes, things that are out of character or unusual for that person. Particularly when the person may not be able to communicate it themselves. Treating relatives and friends as partners in care will help you to protect the person’s wellbeing. So often problems raised on our helpline are caused by lack of communication, and a failure to include a person’s chosen representatives in discussions and decisions. Such as when care staff changed a person’s medication without consulting their relative, placing them on medication the relative knew they had previously had a bad reaction to.

Making a home a home

Welcoming and involving family and friends can also improve the culture of a care home, making it feel more like a person’s home. This can not only improve the wellbeing of all residents, but also the morale of staff. For example, do you:

  • welcome family and friends to take part in an ‘induction’ to the home?
  • encourage them to help their loved one move in and get settled, easing everyone through what is often a stressful and anxious time?
  • run a buddy scheme for new relatives and their loved ones?
  • encourage loved ones to form a WhatsApp group, to offer peer support?
  • organise social events to welcome family and friends? – they could get involved in suggesting ideas or some may even want to help organise socials
  • run a residents and relatives group, to encourage them to get more involved in the life of the home?

Ultimately, everyone is different and there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. Promoting wellbeing and ensuring person-centred care is all about treating people as individuals. Relatives and friends can play a vital and helpful role – after all, this is about the person they love.




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