Every day, 53 million Americans provide assistance for a relative, partner, friend, or neighbor with disabilities. That means nearly one in five adults in the US is providing unpaid care.
Furthermore, nearly a quarter of these caregivers provide care for more than one person. The total value of this work is estimated at $470 billion.
During National Family Caregivers Month, disability service agencies have an opportunity to recognize and honor the efforts of caregivers across the country. Although, as organizations, you do a lot to support individuals with disabilities and their families all year long, this month is the perfect time to show some extra appreciation.
With that in mind, we’ve put together some ideas for how you can participate in National Family Caregivers Month. But first, let’s take a look at how this event came to be.
It all started in 1994 when the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) began promoting national recognition of family caregivers.
Five years later, President Clinton declared the week of November 21 through November 27, 1999, as National Family Caregivers Week.
In 2020, President Clinton expanded the event to a full month when he signed Presidential Proclamation 7370 declaring November National Family Caregivers Month. In the Proclamation, he said:
Every president since then has followed suit by declaring November National Family Caregivers Month.
Timeline of National Family Caregivers Month
The theme for National Family Caregivers Month in 2021 is “Caregiving in Crisis”.
Since 2020, COVID-19 has profoundly impacted family caregivers. The number of people requiring care has grown during the pandemic, and there are 9.5 million more people providing unpaid care today than there were in 2015.
These caregivers have shouldered a heavy burden as they tried to juggle increased responsibilities and financial worries, navigate telehealth and remote services, and keep their loved ones safe during uncertain times.
As a result, two thirds of these unpaid caregivers said they experienced mental health challenges during the pandemic, such as anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, according to a CDC survey. Only one third of non-caregivers experienced similar symptoms.
So what can your disability service agency do to recognize caregivers and bring attention to the challenges they face today? Here are seven ideas:
Family caregivers play an indispensable role in supporting individuals with disabilities, but their sacrifice is often overlooked. One simple but powerful way your agency can celebrate these “hidden helpers” is by giving a shout-out to them on social media. Whether you record a video, share individual caregivers’ stories, or just say a heartfelt thank you, there’s no wrong way to show your support.
Many caregivers struggle to meet the basic needs of the individuals they care for. Disability service agencies can help ease the burden on caregivers by providing food and basic supplies. This might mean hosting a traditional food drive to collect canned goods. It might also mean holding a virtual food drive to raise funds to purchase groceries. Some agencies have even set up food pantries year-round so caregivers can pick up food and other necessities.
Family caregivers provide care day-in and day-out, yet many do not feel adequately prepared for the tasks and challenges they face. Fortunately, disability service agencies are in an ideal position to provide them with the necessary information. Sharing tips, articles, and advice is an easy way for your agency to help caregivers feel empowered.
Your organization can also support caregivers by hosting a class, workshop, or webinar. These experiences offer a chance for caregivers to build their confidence and competence. Some topics could include:
Another way your agency can assist caregivers is by connecting them with local support groups. Support groups provide an opportunity for caregivers to share their experiences with others in similar situations. In addition, it’s a chance for caregivers to share coping strategies and learn from one another. You can find a list of caregiver support groups here.
When caregivers participate fully in the individual service plan (ISP) process, it’s more likely that individuals will have the support they need. However, many caregivers aren’t sure how to get involved. Or, there may be other obstacles to participation, such as busy schedules or language barriers. By working to address these barriers, your agency can help ensure that caregivers are actively engaged in the decision-making process — and that’s a win-win for everyone.
Perhaps the most powerful thing your agency can do, aside from providing your normal range of services, is to advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities and their families. By advancing public policy, your organization can help ensure that caregivers and their loved ones have the necessary resources and support.
So there you have it — seven ideas for celebrating National Family Caregivers Month. No matter how you choose to celebrate, taking the time to recognize caregivers in your community is sure to be appreciated. For more ideas and events, download the free Disability Events Calendar.
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