By Nadira Sharif
UK’s African communities are many, and reflect a wide range of origins, cultures and patterns of family life. Some have settled here a while ago; some are more recent arrivals. They include people from East Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and East African countries, such as Somalia.
Many older people may be living alone because of changing family patterns, for instance when adults, children and other relatives start to live some distance away. As a consequence, the older people can find themselves struggling to cope. Even when an older person is cared for by family, there may come a time when a family carer is unable to cope anymore. This is where social services can offer a vital lifeline.
The care services available in the UK include providing support in people’s homes, creating social groups for older people who are isolated and they can involve the older person moving into a care home or sheltered housing.
The need for such care and support can arise for many reasons; such as isolation, loneliness, depression, dementia and physical illness. However, it is clear that the care system is a mystery to many minority groups in the UK, meaning many do not know what support is available to them and how much it costs.
Furthermore, far too many people wait until a time of crisis to consider care and support options for themselves or a loved one, rather than consider the most appropriate options in advance. This increases the risk of older people ending up with care that isn’t the most suitable for them.
Information and advice
We are the UK charity focused on improving care and support services, and to help everyone to be able to find the most appropriate support, whether at the time of a crisis or as they prepare for the future. We have launched the website: findmegoodcare.co.uk. It includes comprehensive information and advice on how to choose and pay for care, together with a directory of providers and the opportunity to provide feedback.
Providing the right support at the right time is vital – it can minimise the progress of declining physical and mental health and delay or prevent the need for more costly care.
Proper assessment of need is fundamental to ensuring that individuals are helped to access the most appropriate social care and support. Social Services’ assessments do not always consider the lifestyles, and cultural or religious needs, of individual people, so this can sometimes be more tricky for the UK’s African communities. This can result in care services that may not be acceptable or helpful to the older person; for example, when a home care worker, who does not speak the same language, is employed to provide care. During assessment, the most important thing for the older person is to be able to say what they want. Find Me Good Care also includes an advanced search option that allows people to look for services by language or faith.
Services set up for the African community, with staff who reflect the communities they serve, can be seen as more suitable by some people. You should check to ensure that these services can provide specialist care, for example, for dementia or mental health issues, and also that staff have been appropriately trained. These all need to also be considered when selecting the most appropriate care.
Social services can now provide people with money to buy their own services. This idea is part of “personalisation” and the payments are known as Personal or Individual Budgets. This can help people to tailor services to how they want them. But one challenge is that, even when older people meet eligibility requirements for social care, it can be a problem knowing how to access services. This is especially the case for those who are isolated and who do not speak or read English well.
If you need social care or support for yourself or a relative, start off by asking social services what information and advice are available. Then, you or your relative are more likely to be able to make informed choices and to have more control in care decisions.
We are also encouraging social care organisations to use Find Me Good Care to let individuals and communities learn about services that cater for them. Those working with older people from the UK’s African communities can even promote their services on the site to people who need care and support.
• Nadira Sharif is Research Analyst at the Social Care Institute for Excellence