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Informal Caregiving

Policy Recommendations Addressing Informal Caregiving

A growing body of literature calls for programs to alleviate stress and burden on caregivers, including support groups, day treatment centers, respite care, home health, and housekeeping assistance. Although these programs can extend the length of time in which informal networks can provide care, many gerontologists suggest that they are essentially palliative or band-aid approaches that fail to alter the structural arrangements that produce caregiver burden and stress.

Recognition of the long-term disruptive affects on employment has generated recommendations for caregiving leaves and greater job security. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) addresses employed caregivers' need for job protection, but other aspects of the legislation curtail its potential benefits, particularly for women. Small businesses employing fifty or fewer employees are exempt from the FMLA. Over half of all private sector employees, including a disproportionately large number of women, work for such firms. Furthermore, most workers cannot afford to take an unpaid leave from work.

Family-friendly workplace policies are advocated as another approach to alleviating strains of providing family care across the life course, including care for frail elderly relatives. But family-friendly policies are often sold to business as strategies for recruiting and retaining valued employees, strengthening company loyalty, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing work performance (Hochschild). Thus, these policies are designed to help employees find ways to cope with caregiving demands that interfere with job performance. They do nothing to change the features of the workplace that contributes to strain.

Public opinion surveys indicate that most Americans believe that the government has an obligation to finance care for elders who cannot afford to purchase care themselves. However, as Atchley claims, "economically pressured state and federal governments have an interest in shifting as much of this financial responsibility onto the family as possible" (p. 213). Development and provision of formal services reflects a context in which care of the frail elderly is defined as a private responsibility of families, with formal intervention most likely at crisis points or when informal resources are exhausted or unavailable (Hooyman and Gonyea).



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Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 1Informal Caregiving - What Is Informal Caregiving?, Who Are The Family Caregivers Of Frail Elders?, The Consequences Of Providing Informal Care