1. Who is a Carer?
Many people are carers. The focus of the Supporting Tasmanian Carers: Tasmanian Carer Action Plan 2021-2024 (Supporting Tasmanian Carers) is the more than 80 100 Tasmanians who provide support to family members and friends as unpaid and informal carers.
Carers Tasmania is the peak body for carers in Tasmania and represents all informal carers in the State. Carers Tasmania uses the following definition:
A carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic or life limiting condition alcohol or drug dependence or who are frail and aged.
For the purposes of Supporting Tasmanian Carers, this definition will be used. This is an inclusive approach which identifies the key attributes of a carer in clear and concise language. The definition of carer will also be considered in the development of carer recognition legislation, a key action in this Action Plan.
Mental Health Family and Friends Tasmania (MHFFT) Inc, advocates for families and friends of people affected by mental ill-health, prefers not to use the term ‘carer’. Rather, MHFFT’s members are families and friends who support a person affected by mental ill health, and provide emotional and practical support. They may be the partner, parent, friend or child of the person, and may not live with the person they support.
Every carer’s journey is different, and their role and how they came to it will be different. A person’s caring role may be:
- Lifelong – an ageing parent or a partner or child with disability, acquired injury or chronic illness;
- Short term - due to injury, acute illness, or end-of-life care; or
- Episodic - due to mental ill health or degenerative conditions.
Anyone can become a carer at any time during their life. They may be caring for a friend or loved one, and the role may be for a few months, several years, or decades.
Carers are often the main caregiver or supporter. They may not be easily identifiable and therefore may not be known to carer agencies and services, receive support for their caring role, or know where or how to access support for their caring role. Some carers do not think of themselves as ‘carers’, and instead identify their caring role in terms of their relationship eg parent, child, sibling etc.
Children and young people who are carers can be at particular risk of not being recognised and supported in their caring role.
A carer may be caring for more than one person or a person may have more than one carer. Carers may also care for each other. Some carers will be supported by paid individual support workers who are colloquially referred to as carers.
While it is acknowledge that other community members also have important caring roles – such as foster/kinship carers or paid carers, they perform these roles under different and formalised structures, and are therefore not captured within this Action Plan.
Why have we changed the definition?
In 2017, carers told us that the carer definition in the Tasmanian Government’s Carer Policy 2016 did not reflect their lived experiences. Carers told us:
- They felt that the legal language used in the definition did not reflect their role; and
- Mental health carers felt that many definitions did not acknowledge the episodic nature of the care they provide, the way they are often ‘on call’ or provide significant supervision (often without even living with the person) to ensure the person they care for remains safe and well. In this situation carers described their role as providing a ‘safety net’ for the person they care for.
As a result, the Tasmanian Carer Action Plan 2017-2020 included an action to:
- Review the definition of carer in the Carer Policy, in consultation with key agencies and community organisations, so all carers affected by the Carer Policy see themselves and their role in the definition (Action 1.5).
The introduction of carer recognition legislation under this Action Plan will provide a further opportunity to consult with carers about the definition.