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PERSPECTIVE: It's all about the family; Helen Dorr, National Family Carer Network coordinator They are the unsung army who dedicate their lives to caring for their friends and family in need. But who cares for them? Here, Helen Dorr, National Family Carer Network coordinator, Pat Thomas, a carer for 39 years, and the Princess Royal, patron of her own charity for carers, explain why we should support National Carers Week.

The chances are we are all going to care for a family member at some time in our lives, and to be honest that is how most people would want it to be.

Caring is one way of giving something back to your family and friends, and we would like to think that they will be there for us when we need care.

But caring for someone with a learning disability is different. 800,000 people over the age of 20 have a learning disability in the UK and this figure is expected to increase by 14 per cent to more than 900,000 people by 2021.

More than half of all adults with learning disabilities live with their parents with another 12 per cent living with other relatives. Thankfully young people with very high health and care support needs, who until quite recently would not have survived into adulthood, are living happy and fulfilling lives with the support of their family carers. Parents of children with a learning disability will be giving a lifetime of support.

Our recent event in Birmingham was attended by family carers well into their 80s and 90s, who have been giving care for over 60 years, for much of that time with minimal support from services. With the increased life expectancy for people with a learning disability, brothers and sisters are now finding themselves caring when parents cannot do it any more.

Families have always been at the forefront of developing better lives for people with learning disabilities and it is still like that today. The development of the National Family Carer Network, an initiative hosted and managed by HFT, has created a national organisation exclusively for the families of adults with a learning disability. It brings together smaller local groups and organisations from across England to give a national voice and focus.

Family carers spend a lot of time and energy trying to improve things close to home but national policy is very important to families too. The Network brings together views and experiences from across the country and feeds them into the national agenda. Family carers in Birmingham have a right to influence what happens in Birmingham, but also at a national level.

There is no doubt caring for some one with a learning disability is often demanding and stressful, but it also brings its rewards. Families talk about the joy and companionship of staying close. Not many would change their lives if they could, but they would just like a bit of help and support when they need it.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 15, 2006
Previous Article:Raid club unsafe after fire mystery.
Next Article:PERSPECTIVE: Responding to the challenges facing carers; The Princess Royal, charity patron.

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