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Understanding carers

Police and prison officers

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 ensure 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.

Carers' responsibilities

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.

Police officers

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.

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.

Prison officers

As a prison officer, you could have contact with a carer if they become a prisoner or if the person is in prison.

Maintaining relationships

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 available 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.


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Page last reviewed: 28/07/2014

Next review due: 28/07/2016

Call Carers Direct on 0300 123 1053

Confidential information and advice for carers.

Lines are open 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday (except bank holidays), 11am to 4pm at weekends. Request a free call back or an interpreted call back in one of more than 170 languages including ربي, বাংলা, 中文, Français, ગુજરાતી, Polski, Português, ਪੰਜਾਬੀ, Soomaali, Español, Türkçe and .اردو.

You can talk to an adviser live online or send a query by email.

Find out more about the Carers Direct helpline.

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