Orion and the Central Association of Carers in Finland at SuomiAreena: Young people can also be carers

Orion and the Central Association of Carers in Finland prompted a lively discussion on caring at SuomiAreena, a public debate forum held every July in Pori, western Finland. There are various types of caring situations in Finland, and many carers are left without badly needed support.

The offering at SuomiAreena was particularly abundant this year in honour of the centenary celebration of Finland’s independence. Orion is also celebrating its 100th birthday this autumn in a number of ways, such as its three-year collaboration with the Central Association of Carers in Finland. This is the third year of the collaboration.

As part of the SuomiAreena events, Orion and the Central Association of Carers organised a panel discussion on the topic Is that a carer in the mirror? – The many faces of caring from youngster to seniors. Many gradually end up as carers when a loved one, such as an ageing spouse, starts to need more and more help with everyday activities. But there are also those who become carers in a split second after a loved one loses their functional capacity after an accident or illness.

CEO Timo Lappalainen explained that caring will affect almost all of us in one way or another at some point in our lives. “Orion has a wide network of health care professionals, which makes it easier for us to raise awareness in the professional world.”


Dependency ratio upside down

Kirsi Hokkila, who participated in the panel, was a carer to both parents for practically her entire youth, even though she only realised this afterwards as an adult. “I was in the second grade when my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I just had to cope with the new situations as they arose.”

Hokkila points out that you should not shift the responsibility for seeking help to a child or young person. After her experiences, she says that now there is nothing that she wouldn’t be able to cope with. “My mother was a strong woman, a fighter. I want to be just as strong as her.”

But not all children and young people are strong, and situations vary. Sometimes children are faced with difficult choices and even skip school when their parents need help. When parents are sick, older children may also often end up caring for their younger siblings.

 “I want to help these children to get support,” Hokkila says.

The Central Association of Carers has launched a project called Jangsterit (Youngsters) to find and help carers under the age of 18. “While settling the affairs of a seriously ill person, the authorities sometimes forget to check who the actual carer is and how they are coping,” said MP Anneli Kiljunen, Chairwoman of the Board.

Kiljunen, who is herself a carer, knows from her experience in social work how difficult it can be to find out about children’s situations. “Families sometimes fear that informing the authorities may start child protection procedures.”


Finns are active carers

People usually think that it is only natural to take care of family members. And we often help each other at the expense of our own well-being, without saying anything. Seeking help is not easy.

 “The situation of carers is a multifaceted problem. Their coping is a big issue, especially when it is a question of children’s rights,” said Annika Saarikko who had started as Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services the previous day.

If a young carer manages to cope at school, the situation may appear good from the outside. “The plight of high-achieving girls easily goes unnoticed,” said Baba Lybeck, the host of the panel.

If a care receiver is dependent on their carer 24/7, the carer will eventually become exhausted. Finnish municipalities are obliged to provide two days off a month for carers who have signed an informal care agreement, but this is often neglected. Sometimes there are no suitable care homes available where the carer would be happy to leave their loved one. In many cases carers would rather have help at home.

 “We need an infrastructure for the positive development of caring. I don’t understand how the private sector is unable to offer more service innovations. What we need is both a human and financial approach,” Lappalainen said.


Making it easier for carers

An easy way to help carers was launched in spring. Välittämö100.fi is an online service provided by Orion and the Central Association of Carers in Finland. Through the service, individuals and businesses in Finland can donate various services to carers who are members of the Association.

Many carers would love to receive donations such as a voucher for a cruise or sports activity, or a subscription for a magazine or newspaper. Or if you would rather help someone with their gardening or cleaning, you can also offer these services at Välittämö100.

Musician Jyrki69 has already tried the service. “I donated tickets to my band’s gig.” Jyrki69 provided more information about Välittämö100 to all those visiting the tent of Orion and the Central Association of Carers in Pori.

Timo Lappalainen is also familiar with Välittämö100. “I donated some theatre tickets. The service works well. People outside the Helsinki metropolitan area in particular were interested in the tickets. I hope someone will get an entire day off to go to the theatre.”


Read more (in Finnish only): Välittämö100.fi


Text: Johanna Paasikangas-Tella

Photos: Rami Marjamäki and Kapina Productions