Returning the care

Unpaid carers devote their time to helping their loved ones. Photo: Hannah Beaney.

An estimated 320,000 people are part of Western Australia’s hidden health service of unpaid family or friend carers. National Carers Week from October 15 to 21 aims to value those people who devote their time and effort to helping others without the incentive of a reward or benefit. Carers WA defines a carer as anyone who helps a friend or family member with a mental illness, medical condition, disability or is frail with age.  

A Million Reasons to Care is the theme for the week, with Carers WA aiming to highlight the many different caring roles and support the need for carer wellbeing. Carers WA said this week provides an opportunity to raise awareness for the hidden work carers undertake in keeping our society afloat.  

Carers WA also said it is important that carers are recognised and celebrated in society for the pillars they are.  

Carers WA receives funding from both the state and federal governments to provide ongoing assistance to unpaid carers. The assistance is available through Carer Gateway, which includes services such as carer support plans, in-person peer support groups and counselling sessions. According to Carers WA, Carer Gateway provided 5244 counselling sessions for carers during the 2021 to 2022 financial year. 

One way in which the voice of carers is heard is through the Carers Advisory Council. The Department of Communities Spokesperson said the council was formed after the 2004 WA Carers Recognition Act was passed and gives guidance to the Minister for Community Services concerning carers in WA.  

Murdoch University associate lecturer Dr Kim Hudson brings her lived experience of caring into her advocacy role with the Carers Advisory Council. Dr Hudson said unpaid carers are not often spoken about, despite the impact their role has within the WA community.  

Dr Hudson has lived experience caring for both her mother as a teenager, and also her late husband. Dr Hudson said the impact of caring is not only physical but also psychological and emotional.  

Day in day out trying to support someone else to live a full life, as well as maintaining your own life.

Dr Kim Hudson

One area in which carers are not often supported is in their employment. Dr Hudson said finding continuing work in the labour market while caring for an individual is hard due to the unpredictable nature of caring. She also said carers can feel unreliable and scared to take on employment, as they do not want a bad reputation for being unavailable.  

According to Dr Hudson, the first step for employers is recognising and acknowledging the unpaid carers in the community and putting support and structures in place. She said this would allow carers to be productive in both the workplace and their caring roles, which is what she is a part of advocating for.    

“A perfect carers week would be where we didn’t have to go and advocate … it just happened as people value it enough.” 

Dr Kim Hudson

A Carer Gateway initiative, Helping Minds WA, oversaw 212,434 individual sessions for active clients in the 2021 to 2022 financial year. Helping Minds aims to support carers by providing free access to counselling services and consultation, as well as supporting individual advocacy.  

Through Helpings Minds carers access a range of resources, with each client able to select what support is best for them. Government funding is received to tailor each support program.  

To value the effort carers give to our communities, Carers WA is hosting several events to demonstrate their appreciation. Carers WA chief executive Richard Newman said it is relevant to celebrate WA’s hidden health workforce and advertise the support and services available, as anyone could become a carer at some point in their life.  

“Livelihoods, hopes, and dreams can be altered, for which many people are under-prepared.”  

Carers WA chief executive Richard Newman