Let’s not forget to care for those who care for others.  Every day, unpaid family caregivers and paid professionals care for thousands of older Delawareans, many of whom suffer from a disability and have limited mobility. Without their caregivers, they may otherwise be isolated from the support and services they need. Caregivers often neglect their own health, jobs and safety to provide essential support that allows those in need to remain in their own homes and live independently in their communities.

According to an AARP report, “Valuing the Invaluable,” there are more than 135,000 family caregivers in Delaware at any given moment.  Each year, they give over 132 million hours of unpaid care, with a fair market value of over 1 billion dollars. Family caregivers play a big role in maintaining the life satisfaction and independence of thousands of Delawareans.

 Unpaid family caregivers often have to make changes to their work or personal schedules to provide care. The National Alliance for Caregiving found that for family caregivers over the age of 50, 51% were employed full-time and 10% were employed part-time in addition to their caregiving responsibilities.  Imagine the stress of caring for a loved one while also working full time.

Paid caregivers, often known as direct support professionals (DSP,) also provide caregiving services such as bathing and feeding, and often receive pay lower than other professions.  In Delaware, the average wage for a DSP is $10.99 per hour compared to an average wage of $17.65 per hour for all occupations. Low pay, under-staffing, and lack of training all contribute to a high turnover rate for the DSP workforce. 

 This has resulted in a shortage of paid and unpaid caregivers, which ultimately harms the people who need help the most. Place yourself in the shoes of someone receiving care from a DSP.  You develop a real sense of trust and comfort in someone changing, bathing and intimately working with you only to have that person leave their job due to economic pressures. Health outcomes suffer and medical errors increase because of high DSP turnover.  The DSP staffing crisis degrades both the people who receive care and the DSP’s who give the care.

The need for caregivers will only increase in the near future.  From 2010 – 2020 DSP’s have an occupational growth projection of 21%, in part due to the aging of the baby boomer generation. The US Census Bureau estimates an increase of 123,000 people age 65 and older in Delaware between 2005 and 2030.  Caregiving, whether it is provided by family or paid caregivers, will be an increasingly necessary service to keep Delawareans independent.

 What solutions can be offered?

Addressing the DSP shortage will require targeted efforts to improve working conditions.  The creation of career ladders for DSP’s will allow for career advancement opportunities.  National organizations such as the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) have defined and produced a set of core DSP competencies.  Increased pay and advancement opportunities could be offered to those DSP’s who seek a nationally accepted credential.

 Providing and increasing respite services gives family caregivers some down time, and allows them to rejuvenate and work for a longer period of time. By devoting their time to care for their family members in need, family caregivers save the State and Federal governments billions of dollars.  The investment needed to fund respite services is small when compared to the fair market value of the care they provide.  Flexible employment schedules and Eldercare assistance from employers also allow family caregivers to balance their busy lives.

 The years ahead will bring many challenges.  Delaware’s population trends show a large increase in those age 50+ and people with a disability.  Many public policy changes will be needed to address these trends. 

 We cannot underestimate the power of saying “thank you” to a caregiver. Anytime is the perfect time to thank a caregiver, whether the person is a family member, a neighbor, or a paid caregiver.  Without caregivers many in Delaware would face huge challenges in maintaining the independence that most of us take for granted.   Please visit AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center or Delaware’s Developmental Disabilities Council for more information. Also visit CARE Delaware, our state’s caregiving resource center.

 Lucretia B. Young, AARP State Director

 Pat Maichle, Executive Director, Delaware Disability Council

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