Carers champion uses Facebook to help heroes

A NEW carers tsar is to use Facebook to reach thousands of unsung youngsters across Edinburgh who look after disabled or elderly relatives.

Councillor Norman Work, a former vice-convener for social care and housing, has become Scotland’s first “carers champion” – a post established as part of the council coalition agreement between Labour and the SNP.

One of his first steps will be to connect with the Capital’s hidden army of young carers via such social media platforms as Facebook, to make them aware of the vital support services aware to them.

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He said: “We’re looking at being as accessible as possible.”

Cllr Work, whose role will see him engage with carers and act as their voice within City Chambers, recently held his first meeting with organisations representing the tens of thousands of people in the city who look after a friend or family member for free.

Following the meeting, he said he is particularly keen to engage with children who look after a parent or sibling but may not be receiving the help they are entitled to.

He said: “There are 39,000 carers in Edinburgh – that’s just the ones we know about and the real number is likely to be far higher. The challenge is to identify the ones we don’t know about so we can offer them the support they deserve.

“With older people, a lot of them just get on with it and often wouldn’t dream of asking for help. The challenge is to reach out to them. We also need to look at how we connect with young carers. They won’t necessarily buy a newspaper or go to council meetings so we’re going to look at using social networking sites like Facebook to get our message out there.”

Measures announced by the council include a grant of up to £250 for individuals to spend on themselves and the creation of an internet networking system connecting people in need of support with volunteers.

An emergency card scheme, which will provide help if a carer suddenly falls ill or has an accident, will also be set up.

But Cllr Work said more needed to be done to raise awareness of carers and the importance of the jobs they do, which save the health and social work services millions of pounds in the Edinburgh area.

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Margaret Murphy, head of service at the Edinburgh Young Carers Project, backed the carers champion idea.

The charity works with 150 young carers, who usually look after parents or siblings, aged between five and 20 to offer practical and emotional support, including taking them on fun trips or providing respite carers to give them a break.

She said: “I think it’s a fantastic idea. It’s someone to champion the cause and listen and then report back on what’s important to carers to the people who are making decisions.

“Sometimes the child isn’t even aware that they are a carer because what they do is normal to them. That can result in them not getting the care and support they need.

“It’s a very fulfilling role and a lot of them are very proud of being carers. But without the right support it can lead to problems at school or cause them to feel quite down when they’re missing out on the fun stuff.”