Jonathan Freeman, Vice-Chair of Championing Social Care and CEO of the CareTech Foundation, writes on his own journey in the social care world and his determination to help change the public image of the social care sector.
I have written before about my personal experience of the social care sector in connection with my mother’s dementia and the incredible care that she has been given by care staff. After three years as CEO of the CareTech Foundation and also as a trustee of the brilliant Field Lane Foundation charity, I have been lucky enough to learn so much more about the social care sector. In that time, I have had so many assumptions shattered and had my breath taken away by heart-stopping examples of jaw-dropping selflessness and dedication.
Like so many of us, my awareness and understanding of the social care sector until relatively recently was limited to brief visits as a child to see my two grandmothers towards the end of their lives. These brief visits to “the ‘ome” (as my uncle always refers to them for some unfathomable reason) were fleeting and my focus was on my grandmothers – and on my respective parents as they came to terms with the limited time they had left with their mothers – rather than those around them providing their care. Like many kids, visiting elderly relatives wasn’t exactly terribly high on my list of what to do on a weekend and I can’t pretend I really gave a great deal of thought to the infrastructure placed around my grandmothers to support them towards the end of their lives.
Wind forward 30+ years and it was my time to visit my parents in their respective care homes. My father’s health was such that his was a relatively short spell in the local care home following the stroke that triggered his vascular dementia. And whilst my predominant emotions revolved around my father’s rapidly-diminishing health, I was much more aware of how amazing the staff were in supporting my father – and us – through what was a pretty painful episode. And, as I have explained elsewhere in more detail, my regular visits to my mother’s care home over the last five years, have been astonishing. When I have despaired at making contact in any meaningful way with my mother, the staff have always helped me to see that mother is still amazing and how I can make a connection with her still. They have also shown me that, however frustrating and difficult it can be, my mother – and every other resident of the home – is an individual deserving of respect, care and love.
When I was asked to establish and then lead the CareTech Foundation, we all agreed that the charity’s focus had to be on supporting and championing the social care sector, care workers and those living in care. Every day across the hundreds of specialist services which CareTech plc delivers across the country, we witness staff and service users achieving incredible feats! When the Foundation team and I visit services or talk to CareTech plc staff, we always come back energised by the examples of dedication, professionalism and joy. We witness care workers dealing with young people with some of the most challenging behaviours with tenderness, patience and love. We see staff enabling adults with huge physical and other challenges to lead positive and active lives. We witness service users who, frankly, have often had every conceivable issue thrown at them and who couldn’t be blamed for throwing in the towel but who, with every encouragement from their carers, refuse to give up.
Through a number of ways, the CareTech Foundation aims to use its resources to help the care sector and its people. Beyond their paid roles, I am staggered by the extra mile that so many care workers go to support other social causes. Just today, as I write this blog, I have been able to approve grants:
- to support a service user who completed a 100-mile cycle ride to raise funds for a hospice supporting children with complex disabilities;
- to a team of care staff who undertook a fundraising challenge to walk a million steps to raise money to go towards the treatment of a young boy they know with a rare form of bone cancer in desperate need of expensive medical treatment overseas; and,
- to support two under-14s football teams coached by a care worker in his spare time. The teams are part of an inclusive club which includes a junior team of players with hearing disabilities and which also supports children with a wide range of special educational needs.
I also a trustee of the Field Lane Foundation, which provides care and support for a diverse range of service users, including adults with learning disabilities, vulnerable families – many of who are homeless – and people in need of additional support to stay in their own home or with their families. When I visit the charity’s services or talk to their staff, I witness just the same amazing commitment of the staff and the relentless positivity of the service users, both united in their determination to ensure that every individual can live constructive fruitful lives.
In coming together with leaders from across the social care sector, firstly for the Care Sector Ball and now the wider Championing Social Care, I have met some of the most inspirational individuals ever in my career. There are some incredibly bright entrepreneurs who are so sharp and so many professionals delivering services of fantastic quality. But what sets these leaders and their organisations apart from other sectors in which I’ve worked is that they genuinely care about the individuals for whom their organisations exist – those in care – and also the key part that their values play in shaping their business’ and their individual approaches. This is very special.
The very clear lessons from all of these examples are, for me, two-fold.
Firstly, to be a care worker is one of the most noble of vocations to which anyone can sign up. It is tough, it is draining, it is often emotionally brutal. But to be a care worker is to use your own skills, experience and, above all, values in the service of those for whom many of us simply can not or choose not to support. That is so inspiring and so powerful.
The second lesson for me is that social care highlights the breath-taking awesome nature of the human spirit. I have met individuals dealing with things with which I just couldn’t imagine coping. But they do so with a smile, a warmth and a determination that is simply staggering.
This all makes for a pretty humbling experience for me, as I know it does for so many others involved in the sector. This is why I jumped at the chance to help establish the Championing Social Care initiative. I completely get the need to lobby for change in the sector, to ensure it is properly funded, supported and recognised. There are many excellent organisations and individuals campaigning in this way. But what we want to is just to shine a warm light on the care sector and its people so that others can enjoy what we have the honour to see every day. I really hope others will join our efforts and help us to show what the sector is really like to so many more people.