Connecting caring relatives with isolated older people
A web-based service building reciprocal social networks to provide informal care and contact for our ageing population.
Based on sharing economy concepts it complements the move to personalisation of social care, offering a means of support to people before their needs become substantial or critical.
More and more, people in their 50’s and 60’s have an older relative or close friend who is becoming frail and for whom they feel responsible. Very often, that person does not live within easy travelling distance. Regular face-to-face connection and support can be impossible in busy working lives. It is expensive in time and money and the situation can lead to high degrees of worry and stress for the caring relative. The older person can feel increasingly isolated or abandoned.
“CheckMyMumsOK” will address this growing social problem without requiring higher levels of expensive and impersonal state support to the frail elderly. It is one answer to the Prime Minister’s question:
“How do we make things better without spending more money? Because, there isn’t going to be a lot of money to improve public services.” David Cameron, TED, Feb 2010.
CheckMyMumsOK will build new social networks and levels of societal connectedness around caring for the frail elderly. These carers are predominantly in their late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and this will be our core target demographic. As the scheme becomes established it will increasingly bring younger generations into the circles of connection with the elders. One means of doing so will be to expand beyond voluntary care to the growing numbers of professional personal assistants who are often in the younger age brackets.
How will the service work?
Firstly, anyone who has an older relative or friend that needs care will register with the service. Registration will be free of charge and will enable a search for a registered informal carer in the vicinity of one’s own relative. In order to contact that person there will be a requirement to subscribe to the service (as per online dating services).
As part of the registration service, users will stipulate what sort of support their relative needs. We are talking here about someone who will pop in perhaps twice a week to check the older person is OK, to share a cup of tea and a chat – maybe to do a little shopping. We are not thinking of intimate personal care services requiring any training for the voluntary element of the scheme. During the development of our product we will explore the potential for expanding into the professional personal assistant arena and the different commercial, legal and ethical issues involved.
Users will also explain what level of support they can volunteer themselves. Volunteers in CheckMyLovedOnesOK will be both people who have relatives that need care (i.e. are offering reciprocal help) as well as volunteers acting independently or through voluntary organizations.
As the “Food for Thought” material of the Design Council emphasises, older people want to have social contact with people who share their backgrounds, values and interests, so these will also be requested of people registering to offer support.
Once a person is found who is able to check up on one’s relative it is expected that they will have an exploratory meeting with the older person and a meeting or at least a telephone interview with the carer. We’re proposing calling the person who agrees to check up a “Friendly Face”.
It would be possible to build in CRB checks for volunteers but it would be expected that individuals would understand and accept the risks of engaging with the Friendly Face and would satisfy themselves of their credentials. The system would include the ability to remove Friendly Faces who have any allegations of abuse or inappropriate behaviour made against them. Conversely, there would be a system of recommendations.
The Simplest Model
In the simplest model, John may live in London with an elderly mother, Gracie, in Liverpool. John would find Mary who lives in Liverpool and has a frail father Ted in London. They would simply reciprocate the care each gives to the other’s relative. It could be left to participants to communicate updates outside of the system or the website could include a secure means of messaging between Friendly Faces.
We should point out that, despite the name, the service will, of course, be targeted at dads as well – indeed anyone with the appropriate level of need, so it could include a younger adult with a Learning Disability.