Today marks the start of Carers Week (8th-14th June), an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring and to highlight the challenges faced by unpaid carers and the contribution they make to their families and communities.
Fosters will join with thousands of other individuals and organisations in celebrating the vital role of carers - and through this year's campaign we also recognise the many who are facing new challenges as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and taking on more responsibility to support vulnerable friends and family.
Last month we were delighted to announce becoming the first Norfolk company to have received the 'Carer Friendly Tick Award - Employer' in recognition of our support for colleagues who are family carers.
The award is given by Caring Together, a network partner of Carers Trust, who provide services and support for carers and their families across the eastern counties, including Norfolk.
Caring Together works with employers to help them identify carers and provide support. This can help keep them able to work, as well as caring, and not feeling they must leave their careers in order to give the level of care they want to give the person they look after. The award aims to encourage and highlight businesses with good practices to support their staff who are balancing both a career and caring responsibilities.
At Fosters we currently have five colleagues who care for their family members, and four others who have experiences of being a carer. We have worked with them to draft a specific carers policy to provide relevant assistance and set up a support group of staff across all three branches who are there to listen. A flexible working policy has also been adopted to enable staff to request either short or long-term changes to contracted hours, helping them to balance their commitments.
In working towards obtaining the award, Fosters' Head of Staff Care Heather Brown explains how the process has helped develop critical understanding between colleagues and an opportunity to provide practical supportive policies. "We already had a flexible working policy in place for all staff at Fosters. But we wanted to look at this further, to see whether it fully supported those with caring responsibilities and to see if there was anything more that we could do to help these staff.
"So the first thing we did was to undertake a 'Learning Lunch', where we invited everybody within the firm who was a carer, or who had been a carer in the past, to come along and have a frank and open discussion about what Fosters offered - what worked and what didn't, or what they might like to see more of going forward. We gained an awful lot from that and it really did help us to understand our staff and the responsibilities they have a little bit more.
"Two main things came out of it - that some staff would be reluctant to apply for a promotion or another position within the firm, if it meant leaving a manager who they felt was very supportive of their home circumstances. They were unsure that a manager in a new department would be as supportive and how that might impact on them, so that was hampering their career development to a degree. The second point that was raised is that sometimes comments can be made that could be hurtful, maybe said in jest or as banter, but this highlighted that sometimes other people don't really appreciate the pressure that carers are working under and this was something we wanted to tackle as well - to raise awareness generally."
This feedback has been used to develop company policy and Heather shares what has happened in response: "With the first point with the managers, we made sure that all our heads of department had full training on how to support carers and how to recognise the stress they might be under and to help them gain that good balance between work and home. We made sure that all our managers were aware of all our policies and we developed a carers policy, in addition to our flexible working policy, and also a parental leave policy as well. The hope is that all managers are fully aware and will be able to apply this so any member of staff can apply for any job in any department, in any office at Fosters and expect to receive the same treatment wherever they are.
"With the second point with colleagues, we asked the carers who they felt most comfortable with - who would they go to to discuss a problem that they were having, or just for a shoulder to cry on and for somebody to listen to them. They put forward the names of people within the firm that they felt were supportive, sympathetic, empathetic and helpful and we approached those members of staff to ask them if they'd be prepared to take on this role. All of them said yes, which was fantastic. These people are there to be a listening ear and supportive. To help with starting conversations with managers if that's needed and to signpost to outside agencies who can support carers at any time. We also hope to bring all of our carers together for informal get-togethers, meetings, time away and to just spend time with other people who truly understand what they're going through."
Heather adds: "We're very proud to have received and achieved the Carer Friendly Tick - Employer Award. We hope that this will help to encourage new staff to join Fosters who have the same ideals, which can only help to add to our culture within Fosters - one of inclusivity, support and achievement."
More information about the Carer Friendly Tick Award and the work of Caring Together is available on their website - please visit to find out how you can get involved and support.
And to find out more about the Norfolk Carers Charter please visit Norfolk County Council's website.