If you’re a police or prison officer you are likely to meet carers in the course of your work.
A carer is someone who provides unpaid care or support for a friend or family member who needs help because of illness or disability. Conditions which mean someone needs care and support can include:
- physical ill health
- frailty due to old age
- physical disability
- mental ill health such as depression or bipolar disorder
- learning disability
- developmental conditions such as autism.
- drug or alcohol misuse
- any combination of these: known as a ‘dual diagnosis’, such as where a person is affected by mental ill health as well as drug or alcohol misuse
Every carer is different. For some, caring is a full time responsibility and it may be difficult for them to leave the person they care for alone. Others may need to fit caring around work or other commitments.
Caring may involve hands-on physical help such as washing, dressing and personal care, or it could mean keeping an eye on someone’s behaviour to make sure they’re not putting themselves at risk, or calling them to make sure they’re taking their medication.
A carer may be affected by illness or disability themselves. There are also ‘mutual caring’ situations where people who need support care for each other, for example, elderly parents with an adult child who has a learning disability.
Caring responsibilities can have a significant impact on someone’s life. Carers are more likely to be financially stretched, and many carers also experience emotional and physical strain as a result of caring. At the same time, carers may have a very strong relationship with the person they care for.
Someone who has caring responsibilities may not think of or define themselves as a carer. For many people, the word carer means a paid care worker, and they may see caring as simply part of their role as a parent, son, daughter, sibling or friend.
You may have contact with a carer if they or the person they care for are the victim of a crime, witness to a crime or suspected of or known to have committed a crime. You may need to work with carers if you’re involved in providing support in a healthcare capacity, for example, if you’re responding to someone who is experiencing mental ill health.
There are some areas of police work that are likely to have particular relevance to carers and the people they care for.
People with mental ill health or learning disabilities
The National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) has produced guidance on responding to people with mental ill health or learning disabilities (PDF, 870kb), including how to recognise people who may be affected.
The guidance covers a range of scenarios, from crimes involving or witnessed by people with mental ill health or learning disabilities, to the use of police powers under the Mental Health Act. It also covers disability hate crime and emphasises the importance of ensuring that disability hate crime is identified quickly, and that victims are treated sensitively and with respect.
According to the NPIA guidance, carers can act as a source of information and advice for police. For example, if there are difficulties communicating with someone, their carer may be able to advise on the best strategies for this. It’s important to recognise that a carer is likely to have a unique degree of insight into the condition of the person they care for.
The Care Services Improvement Partnership has produced Positive Practice, Positive Outcomes guidance on working with people who have a learning disability (PDF 1.93mb).
Police officers may also be well placed to offer support to carers and the people they look after. Carers may need information from police to help them understand what’s happening, and why. If it seems that they, or the person they look after, are in need of more support, it may be appropriate to signpost or refer on to statutory services.
You can also help by being aware of the local voluntary organisations who may be able to offer support. These can be found through our online directory of carers' services, or by calling the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.
Crime targeted at carers, or ill or disabled people
Disability hate crime is any criminal offence, which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability.
It can include anti-social behaviour and harassment as well as more serious crimes.
Disability hate crime can affect carers, either indirectly because of a crime committed against the person they care for, or directly, for example if they are targeted because of their link to someone who is ill or disabled.
Voice UK is a national charity which supports people with learning disabilities and other vulnerable people who have experienced crime or abuse.
As a prison officer, you could have contact with a carer if they become a prisoner or if the person is in prison.
A carer and the person they were caring for may have had a close relationship before they were separated and this may be difficult to maintain. If either party is disabled, there may be additional practical difficulties to consider. For example, a prisoner with a learning disability may miss out on family visits if they have problems completing a written visiting order, or a carer who is hearing impaired might find visits conducted in large noisy rooms difficult.
Prison Service Order 2855: Prisoners with disabilities sets out measures that could help disabled prisoners and their families maintain relationships, such as enabling them to correspond through recorded tape rather than written letters, and ensuring that visits accommodate any special requirements that either party might have.
Carers and people with disabilities are more likely than other groups of people to be on a low income, which can also make visiting more difficult. They may benefit from information about the Assisted Prison Visits Scheme.
Community transport schemes may be able to offer practical assistance with prison visits. Many of these schemes are listed on our carers’ directory, which is available online, or by calling the confidential Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053. Information may also be able from the relevant local authority’s public transport department.
Disabled or ill prisoners
If a person who was being cared for becomes a prisoner, they are likely to have additional needs, which may not be obvious. A carer may be able to provide extra information about the person they were caring for, helping to ensure that their needs are fully considered. In some situations, external organisations with experience of working with particular groups may be able to provide support to prisoners with additional needs, for example, Age Concern’s Older Offenders Project.
As with all family and friends of prisoners, carers will probably benefit from information about prison life and processes, and signposting to organisations that work with those 'left outside'. They may also find it useful to have access to information for prisoners themselves, such as the Prison Reform Trust information pack for prisoners with a disability (PDF, 442kb).
Release from prison
Release from prison and resettlement is likely to have an impact on any prisoner and their friends and family members. If the prisoner being released is ill or disabled, or has caring responsibilities, then there are other considerations to be taken into account.
The Prison Service’s responsibilities regarding a released prisoner’s health and social care needs are set out in Prison Service Order 3050: Continuity of healthcare for prisoners.
For more information
Help and support is available for carers and the people they look after, but they may not always be aware of this or how to access it. The confidential Carers Direct helpline can provide information and advice to help carers get the support they need on 0300 123 1053.
People with social care needs are entitled to have these assessed by their local authority, who will then decide if they qualify to receive any services. If someone plans to care for an ill or disabled person, they may be eligible for a carer’s assessment from their local authority to look at how they can be supported in their caring role.
Local carers centres can provide practical help and advice, such as information about benefits for carers and disabled people, or respite care to enable the carer to get a break.
Many carers also find it helpful to talk to others who are in the same position as them, and local carers support groups provide an opportunity to do this.