By Lycia Rodrigues, Family Caregivers of BC Caregiver Support Lead
At Family Caregivers of BC, we understand the importance of relationships in our lives and the need for strong support networks. Establishing a circle of caring people or support network has been a strategy used by people in diverse cultural traditions all around the world for many years. A circle of care is especially important for someone who might be vulnerable because of health and social concerns. Many of us have friends or informal networks that we rely on when we need advice, when we are in crisis and when we want to share and celebrate our triumphs. For many caregivers, these typical connections may not exist automatically and need facilitation. It can be difficult to describe exactly what a circle of care is or what it does because each support network is unique, and there are as many possible circle arrangements as there are circles.
Our approach at FCBC is to first support a caregiver to identify people that could be in their circle of care (including family, friends, neighbours, community members, etc.), and then guide the circle of care group to meet on a regular basis to help the caregiver maintain their wellness. The circle of care group in essence strengthens and develops the caregiver’s informal network of support. A circle can involve two or more people who collaborate to share information and provide whatever type of support the caregiver has identified as a need. They could make follow-up phone calls, help with paperwork and bill payments, grocery shop on a specific day, walk the dog, or do laundry and cleaning. When you are a part of a circle of care, you enter into an intimate and vulnerable space where you learn about the private aspects of a person and their care recipient’s life. In this space, vulnerabilities are exposed, fears and dreams shared, and common visions developed. The circle comprises community members and at the centre is the family caregiver. The family caregiver guides decisions about who to invite to be part of the circle and the direction in which the circle’s energy is employed.
The Greater Victoria Caregiver Support Program at FCBC has facilitated the Circle of Care for Caregivers model in recent years and has seen and heard of the value it brings to caregivers, but also to the people who are part of the support system. We received inspiration from the model developed by the Cowichan Family Caregivers Support Society “Circles of Support Strengthening Personal Networks for Caregivers and Seniors” (Jodie MacDonald, 2015), and this Spring, our Provincial Support Program launched our first offering of the Circle of Care for Caregivers training. This training supports community organization’s staff and volunteers to provide guidance on how to use this approach within their caregiver support program. Our goal at FCBC is to increase informal respite options for caregivers by mobilizing informal supports. If you would like to learn more about this model, please see our recommendations below.