Caring in the 21st century: research evidence and knowledge generation

Larkin, Mary and Milne, Alisoun (2015). Caring in the 21st century: research evidence and knowledge generation. Health and Social Care in the Community, 23(1) pp. 1–3.



The collection of papers in this Special issue reflect a number of the key dimensions of carer-related research more widely. Carer related research is characterised by a range of different methodologies and focuses on different groups of carers caring in a range of contexts. Research relating to the impact and efficacy of policy and to the translation of policy aims into front line practice is also a longstanding feature of research in the carers field. A commitment to capturing carers’ experiences and lives and recognition of the very different needs and profiles of carers is also an enduring dimension. In addition this Special Issue includes papers presenting original research from Ireland and Canada and literature reviews that draw on international evidence this is indicative of the increasing visibility of care related issues on the international stage.

The papers also highlight a number of the tensions that underpin research on carers and caring. Responses to addressing ‘barriers’ to help seeking and service uptake often require investment of public resources. At a time when more is expected of carers and less is being provided by health and social care services this may be unrealistic. It is important to recognise that carers assessments are being conducted in a context where local authorities in England are raising their eligibility thresholds and reducing access to services. How far a practitioner can offer help in an environment of severe cost constraint is therefore a significant challenge. A third issue relates to who is the focus of research. Most research on carers is done with those who define themselves as carers. What we do know is that as many as half of those who actually ‘do caregiving’ do not view themselves as a carer and as such, tend to be marginal to the purview of research (Lloyd 2006). The groups most ‘in need’ of recognition and support are often those least likely to come forward for help or seek out a ‘carer’ related service. A single collection of papers can only ever ‘represent’ a small part of the multi-dimensional, heterogeneous, diverse, and shifting population that constitute carers. However, it does showcase the potential of research to capture carers’ experiences and lives, to expose the impact of cuts to services and the challenges of implementing policy change, explore the role of assessment and support services, and challenge the research community to review how it generates knowledge and develops understanding about carers, care and caring.

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