I never fail to be amazed by the warm welcome in the company of those who care about caregiving. Heading off on a Monday evening flight for the Scottish Carers Parliament in Edinburgh, with a fully packed two-day agenda, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Representing Care Alliance Ireland with Ann Walsh, we joined a 15 strong group of delegates kindly sponsored by EUROCARERS. Over dinner that evening, we shared our carer and organisational experiences, learning about the similarities and differences of European carers.
Day one was hosted by VOCAL (Voices of Carers Across Lothian), a vibrant not-for-profit organization based in central Edinburgh. We were warmly welcomed by Sebastian Fisher (Chief Executive of VOCAL) who gave a comprehensive introduction to this organisation which, with its two other centres in Edinburgh and Mid Lothian, supports 10,000 plus carers each year. No small task for 38 staff and 80 volunteers!
VOCAL started as a carer advocacy group in 1995. It thrives from its strong organisational culture respecting carers as EQUAL PARTNERS in care, supporting the principles of carer confidence, resilience, good health, and capacity to exercise choice. VOCAL has evolved into a leading Scottish provider of a well-developed support model “Think Carer”. We heard from VOCAL staff about the services provided such as carer counselling, finance clinics, carer training & self-development courses.
Sebastian and Clare Cairns (Coalition of Carers in Scotland) deftly walked us through Scotland’s Carer Movement, the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 enshrining carers rights in law, and the Social Security Scotland Act (2018) welfare model, Self-Directed Support (SDS). On paper SDS is impressive but poses challenge under Local Authority implementation. VOCAL help carers to navigate the application and appeals process.
Our long highly informative day ended with a presentation on VOCAL’s quirky new concept of “Respitality”. Carers design their ideal “Wee Break”, whilst their family member’s care needs are looked after seamlessly in their absence.
Day two brought us to the historic Central Court location for the Carers Parliament. This is an annual carers debate, hosted literally in parliamentary format, with a variety of prominent public and political stakeholders present as facilitators. The focus this year was the recognition and celebration of the diverse nature of caring in Scotland. An opening speech from the Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission was followed by a presentation on the Young Carers Festival. This dynamic young carers group assisted the media and social reporting tasks required of the day, whilst highlighting the particular challenges facing the young carer.
Christina McKelvie MSP (Minister for Older People and Equalities) opened the parliament, Joe Fitzpatrick MSP (Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing) chaired the debate where the voice of the 200 plus carers present prevailed for over 90 minutes. Carers from far and wide across Scotland had a set time allocated to voice their concerns, experiences, questions and demands. The previous day spent with VOCAL set the context, preparing us to observe the, at times distressing, lived carer experience. COSLA (The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) replied to the debate which was then closed.
After lunch, there was ample time to visit the Engagement Zone offering Exhibitor stands and Media interaction opportunities. The afternoon session was dedicated to a diverse series of nine workshops ranging from ‘Carers and Human Rights’, to ‘Mental Health and the Triangle of Care’. I attended the first workshop, an innovative exploration of the scope of the Human Rights Charter to potentially influence carer policy.
Wearing my ‘advocacy hat’, I’d strongly recommend attending this Parliament. As a delegate, I was impressed by this unique annual event. As a carer, I came away feeling supported, appreciated and inspired.
Aisling returned to Ireland from the UK in 2006 into a formal carer role as her parents needs for Alzheimer and Leukaemia disease escalated. She became the inaugural president of the Osteopathic Council of Ireland, for whom she lobbied at both European and National level. Now practising part time, she still cares at home for her mother with Parkinsons Disease & Dementia. She is an active member of the Care Alliance Ireland research panel. As their ‘Expert Carer’ on the steering committee of the Irish Health Research Board funded project “Towards Resilience in Families Caring for Someone with Dementia”, she presented at the Care Alliance Ireland Policy Launch in March 2019. As a member of the Dementia Carer Campaign Network, Aisling regularly advocates on behalf of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. Due to her keen interest in the translation of research to policy, she is regularly called on by NGO and Academic Institutions as a speaker and panelist representing the Lived Voice of the Carer. In her spare time she enjoys good coffee, opera and choral music, and is owned by her cats!