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Department of Human Services

Engage with family members and carers as care partners - principle 8

People with disabilities often receive services from family and friends, as well as from support workers. These people are called carers, as distinct from paid support workers.

Carers may have been supporting the client for some time. Working with carers will benefit support workers who don't yet know the client. Carers may volunteer to help while they are visiting their family member or friend, often benefitting the client and support workers.

Knowledge of and history with the individual

Family and carers usually know the client very well; it's common sense to ask them about that person's:

  • likes and dislikes regarding food, drink, clothing and other daily items
  • behaviour patterns and triggers
  • interests and preferences for activities, outings, entertainment and so on, including books, movies, music, sport, and other cultural and recreational opportunities.

The presence of family and carers also may help the client being supported to feel safe, comforted and secure.

Family and friends have been in the client's life for a long time. They provide continuity. They might even mitigate some of the effects of 'staff turnover' because they are a lasting thread in someone's life, where support workers come and go.

Family and carers are likely to speak up if they or the client is dissatisfied (see Dignity in Care Principle 7). Improvements can result – an essential part of ongoing quality control – when they report situations or circumstances that are unsatisfactory.

Finally, engaging with family and carers is respectful to them and the client. All the experience and knowledge held by support workers and their organisations is great, but we can't know everything. Family and carers are subject experts in their own right, in relation to their loved one.

Practical methods to implement principle 8

Feedback is one method to engage family and carers. Carers find organisations that actively invite feedback more welcoming. As discussed in Principle 7, the Department of Human Services (DHS) invites people to give us feedback of all kinds – including complaints. Visit the 'Managing feedback in the disability sector' page.

Visit the National Standards for Disability Services – Stories page and read in either the Word or PDF files:

  • Story Three: Participation and Inclusion on page 6
  • Story Six: Individual Outcomes on page 9
  • Story Eight: Feedback and Complaints on page 11.

Organisations providing support for clients can provide volunteer programs that often will attract carers. Visit the South Australian 'About Volunteering' page to learn more about setting up volunteer programs.

Check out the fact sheets from the Office for Volunteers that provide detailed information for individual volunteers and organisations that involve them.

Checklist for principle 8 – engaging with family and carers

Ask yourself while you read this checklist as a Dignity in Care Champion: can my workplace answer 'Yes' to all the questions below?

  1. Are carers made welcome within our facility, which is our clients' home?
  2. Do we speak with carers regularly, when they are visiting?
  3. Do we involve carers in our regular review of practices, where appropriate, so they can identify problem areas? So they can identify where we are doing well?
  4. Do we conduct ourselves around carers and clients so that we don't seem to be invading the space or overriding the existing balance in relationships? (Keeping in mind, of course, that we still need to do our jobs and follow best practice.)
  5. Are we open to learning from carers, as much as we are open to teaching or training them?
  6. Do we have formal mechanisms in place for carers to join in community events, meetings, forums, boards, management structures and so on? And to volunteer within our organisations?

If we do all these things and more, we are engaging with family and friends, helping to include significant others in the lives of people we support.

Involving appropriate other people – it's about recognising and acting to serve the humanity and individuality of the people with and for whom we work.

Email if you would like to become a Dignity in Care champion or need further information.

Page last updated : 13 Feb 2020

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