Jill Pay was a full-time carer for 19 years, but now she has returned to work and believes that other carers can do the same. Dan Parton reports.

In this article:

  • Jill’s story
  • Strength in adversity
  • Empowering carers

Jill’s story

When Rowan Pay suffered brain damage at birth, which resulted in severe learning difficulties, Rowan’s mum, Jill, took on the role of carer without question.

She then continued full-time caring for almost 20 years with virtually no help. Rowan has global development delay – she has not achieved childhood developments in the usual time – and cannot speak, appears to have a very limited understanding of language, cannot walk unaided and also has epilepsy.

For Jill, caring for Rowan as well as looking after two other children meant that doing even the most menial part-time job was out of the question and for two decades her family lived on benefits.

Nevertheless, Jill never gave up hope of one day returning to work and she finally achieved her ambition by qualifying as a training co-ordinator at the Camden Carer’s Centre. Working three days a week – one day in the office, the others at home or in the community – the job gives Jill the freedom that she has not had in many years and she recently came off benefits.

This was made possible in part because of Rowan’s transfer from children’s to adult services, where she became eligible for a more comprehensive care package. As a result, on the days when Jill’s working she can arrange for outside carers to look after Rowan on her return home from school.

But crucially Jill was ready to return to the workplace; ever since Rowan started school Jill had taken training courses in a range of disciplines, including homeopathy, complementary therapy and teaching adults.

Strength in adversity

Throughout her years as a full-time carer Jill retained her motivation to make a better life for herself and her family, but she admits it was not easy.

When Rowan was a baby – and Jill also had two other children under 5 years old – she had little money or support from social services and struggled to cope.

The nadir came after her request for extra help was rejected by Rowan’s social worker and Jill ended up wandering the streets, dazed, confused and in a vulnerable state.

It was only her strength of character that pulled her out of that mindset and enabled her to carry on. “It took a lot of hard work and determination on my part not to just get completely subsumed by it,” she recalls. “But there are many who are subsumed by it and cannot see any way out of their situation and that’s very unhealthy.”

Empowering carers

This is a mindset Jill is determined to tackle in her work at the Carer’s Centre: “I want to work with carers. I think that for real change to occur it has to come from carers empowering themselves and determining the way things are. If you don’t recognise and respect what you do yourself then it is difficult for others to do that.”

Jill has developed a course called 'It’s all about me for a change', which is designed to help carers recognise the different roles they play and the skills they have. “A lot of people feel very de-skilled in caring, so it is about standing up and being counted and recognising your own worth so other people will recognise it,” she says.

A lot is about empowerment, but it is also about saying that carers are entitled to have a life of their own as well. It is amazing how people don’t believe that and how soon that belief takes over when you are in a caring situation.”

But it can take some time and effort for carers to overcome this perception: “I work with carers and see a glimpse of change, but unless there is something that helps them sustain that change and move forward, then they can fly back very easily into that old pattern of being. It takes a great deal of determination and strength to pull yourself out of a situation like that.”

Jill says that carers have to recognise that they deserve to have a life and understand that they do have choices and believe if they make a choice then they will get the support they need: “That is a huge thing for quite a lot of people. It is a core belief of mine that being a carer doesn’t have to be like the way it is and it could be a lot better.”