Neighborhood care is booming in The Netherlands and Germany. More and more citizens participate in social networks in their neighborhoods to ensure care support. Such shared support compensates for the rise of social, physical, psychological and cognitive shortcomings when aging. Neighborhood care is a clever choice when aging.
With this type of self-organization citizens compensate for the shortcomings of aging and for the shortcomings of public and commercial care services. Particularly given the current health crisis, these initiatives are more than welcome. However, how do you organize neighborhood care?
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As ‘customers’ of professional care, we assume a very limited responsibility. Our relation with professional caregivers is simply unequal. Researchers confirm this, and blame the protocols in professional care. There is very little room and time for us, as ‘customers’, to formulate our own specific care needs.
Our personal capacities and wishes are subordinated to the concerns of policies, professionals, and business operations. Research also confirms that we can hardly influence such concerns.
There is also another flaw in our relation with professional caregivers. They rarely contribute to our ability, as caretakers, to remain in control of our own lives. Once winded up in the care system, there is a serious lack of professional confidence in the goals and ambitions of caretakers.
Of course, politicians, policymakers and care professionals have no easy job. They have to balance caring, with business operations, and public and political responsibilities. These are certainly not easy tasks. However, often caregivers overlook the significance of the people they work for.
Why should we make a point of all this? There are no countries in the world where the chance of receiving qualified, formal care is higher than The Netherlands and Germany. Besides, such care generally ends up with the people who most need it.
Moreover, in these countries, the help from the social network (mainly the family) by far exceeds that from the professional network. There is enough reason for politicians, policymakers and professional and family caregivers, to be proud of their achievements. Still neighborhood care is on the rise.
The neighbors run the show
Neighborhood assistance, neighborhood help, neighborhood support, neighborhood care. No matter what you call it: the neighbors run the show. Solidarity between the neighbors is central.
To run the show, also means that the neighbors get to work. Some years ago I made an inventory of the type of activities. They vary a lot and are numerous: from the organization of social contacts and visits to the theater, to mutual social assistance, for instance with shopping and transport services. In the USA there is even a ‘franchise’ like neighborhood concept, called The Village-to-Village Network.
Some of the neighborhood initiatives even purchase collective care services, or organize care consultancy or advocacy. They fight for the rights of the joint participants. It’s obvious that these activities require substantial efforts from the neighbors.
To grow old in your own neighborhood
It is fascinating to see that the activities the neighbors organize, simultaneously, meet a great variety of needs. Such as the need for self-development, the need for social contact, the need to help others, the need for a sense of community, the need for autonomy, and of course the need for assistance.
Together their joint activities enable neighbors, when they grow older, to live independently. In their own home, in their own neighborhood, and as long as possible.
Politicians, policymakers, and care professionals, research shows, show no serious interest in these neighborhood care initiatives. Which is expected, because they live in their own bubbles and troubles.
Professional care is a closed system. A system driven by the concerns of politicians, professionals, and business operations. Of course, overall their efforts contribute to the wellbeing of the citizens.
In contrast, the joint engagement of the neighbors determines the activities and results of neighborhood care. It’s as if the differences could not be greater. This is, however, a somewhat misleading idea.
Neighbors are, as much as politicians, policymakers, and professional caregivers, engaged by two opposing dispositions: their own personal concerns and, at the same time, solidarity with others.
Neighborhood care policy
Professional caregivers exert policies that efficiently and effectively respond to citizen’s care demands as much as possible. This results in a high added value for citizens, and for society as a whole.
Such efficient and effective policies are important. Neighborhood care initiatives should embrace such policies. However, what could be the aims of such policies. There are various options to mutually add value in a neighborhood care initiative. Anyway, the first option is to design a care policy.
Some rules of thumb when developing a neighborhood care policy:
- Start from an inquiry among your neighbors. What are their needs and demands?
- Ask them suggestions on how to satisfy these needs and demands;
- Use the inquiry to recruit volunteers. Explain that volunteers come in all sizes and types;
- Always explain the results of the inquiry to all your neighbors and ask for specific feedback on the results from all neighbors;
- Design policies explicitly based on the results of the inquiry and the feedback received;
- Again ask feedback on the policies designed;
- When presenting the policies suggested, explain to your neighbors that these policies are not sacrosanct. New ideas are always welcome, as well as new activities and new volunteers.
Where all care begins
There are substantial similarities between professional caregivers and the citizens who organize neighborhood care. They share the same engagement, their own personal concerns and solidarity.
Moreover, there is another quality they share. They all agree on the idea of ‘respectful care’. This moral foundation bridges the gap between neighbors that organize care and professional caregivers.
Neighbors and professionals share respectful care, marked by the following principles:
- They behave mature and with good intentions;
- They appreciate care to have different outcomes;
- They create room for reciprocal decision making.
These principles enable communication and collaboration. As well between neighbors in their own care initiatives, as between these initiatives and professional caregivers. They have to respect each other’s concerns and independence and, by creating the appropriate room to move, act upon this. This is where all neighborhood care begins.
How to organize neighborhood care
Summarizing to organize neighborhood care, you require:
- Active neighbors, neighbors who take the initiative;
- Neighbors who are willing to share responsibilities with others;
- Neighbors who are goal oriented and share their engagement;
- Focus on support to independently grow old in your neighborhood;
- Design a shared and engaging neighborhood care policy;
- Respectful care morals.
When you participate in a neighborhood care initiative, please let us know. When you need some support to create an initiative, please let us know. The comment box is open to everybody.