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Could you help families who need short breaks

Published Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Catherine Alexander, who has spent almost four decades helping local families, is urging would-be carers to take the leap into offering ‘short breaks’ to families

A carer who has helped to care for more than 100 children over a 35-year career is urging others to follow in her footsteps.

Catherine Alexander, who has spent almost four decades helping local families, is urging would-be carers to take the leap into offering ‘short breaks’ to families.

The 65-year-old, who is retiring this month from her role as a council respite carer, describes her career as ‘fulfilling and heartwarming’ and treasures at least one piece of artwork, thank you card or memento from every young person who has passed through her home in Halfway.

Under the ‘short breaks’ programme she has worked with the council’s family placement team to offer short-term respite care to children and families with additional support needs. And now she wants others who might be considering the role to get in touch with the team.

She said: “A ‘short break’ is whatever the individual family needs it to be. It can be every now and again, one night a week, every other weekend. It really differs a lot. The idea is that it can help families who might be close to breaking point. Time and space can make a huge difference to relationships where there are additional needs or other issues. Effectively, I’m like an extension of the family unit.”

Catherine’s own background is in childcare. A childminder since the early 1980s, she was also a founding member of the Cambuslang and Rutherglen Befriending and Respite Group, through which she began to work more closely with the council's Social Work to offer regular and emergency short term care. The mum-of-three then went on to balance her own family life with her career as a childminder and long-term member of the short breaks team.

She added: “My youngest is now 29 but has always been happy and comfortable welcoming young people into our home. Even now she is still like a big sister figure to many of them. It’s just always been a part of me to want to help those who need it, especially families and children.

“And that’s what I want people to know. It’s not about formal qualifications or experience or anything else, it’s really about having the room in your heart to help those who need you.”

Of the 100 or so children Catherine has cared for in her career, many still stay in touch. “Only this week I bumped into a girl I used to look after along with her sister," Catherine said, "I hadn’t seen her for 20 years. So when she came up and gave me a hug it was so wonderful to see her grown up and happy.

“It’s moments like these that make it so worthwhile. I feel proud of the small part I might have played in her story, and this is a feeling you get so often with respite care. Like any caring responsibility it brings challenges but I would hand on heart say that these are far outweighed by the many, many highs that come from such a rewarding vocation.”

Short break carers from all walks of life and backgrounds are needed by the council.

Applications are welcome from single people, married couples, couples in a stable relationship and people from the LGBT community, as well as families with or without children.

Anyone over the age of 21 can work with the team to offer crucial respite care – all that is needed is a room in your home and the enthusiasm, skills and qualities necessary to give children and families some breathing space.

To register your interest or find out more, please either email familyplacement@southlanarkshire.gov.uk or phone 0303 123 1008.