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Child Caregivers – Signs of Burnout and Individual Strategies

December 16, 2013

In previous Blogs we discussed the definition of burnout, how it is different to stress, and its many causes.

In a busy organisation, failure to identify burnout and address it will result in serious consequences. These include workers becoming ill, a dissatisfied work force, organisations losing long term experienced staff and an ultimately a diminished quality of care to the children.

Burnout is detrimental to the quality of care given to orphans and vulnerable children, but it also ‘robs’ caregivers of their emotional and physical health.

Therefore for all involved it is important to be aware of caregiver burnout and to watch for the warning signs. This enables individual and organisational strategies to be put into place.

Signs of caregiver burnout:

  • Using substances to cope (alcohol, drugs)

  • Changes in sleeping habits or appetite

  • Negative feelings: anger, failure, self doubt in ability

  • Cynical and negative outlook on life

  • Detachment from the world by isolating ones self

  • Lowering of frustration levels

  • Lowered immunity, and so increased susceptibility to illness.eg. catching colds,

  • Increased exhaustion, although taking holidays, regular breaks, sleeping

  • Not caring for own needs

  • Loss of motivation and productivity in caring tasks

  • Procrastination (taking longer to start tasks)

  • Reduced personal satisfaction with a loss of interest in caring for the children

  • Difficulties in relaxing

  • Increased impatience and irritability with other staff and children

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed,  helpless to change the children’s lives, and little hope for their future

Individual Strategies to Prevent and Minimise Burnout

If we were to ‘flesh out’ Freda’s situation (in Blog Child Caregivers and Burnout) we would note that some of the following strategies may be difficult for her to implement. Regardless, it is important to note them.

It is important that child caregivers too are reassured that setting individual strategies to prevent burnout is not a sign of personal weakness, or a lack of commitment, but rather a desire to work long term and to provide best care practice to some of the world’s most vulnerable.

Child caregivers should:

  • Gain knowledge

Take every opportunity, including training, to learn as much as possible about the children, their needs and challenges, and how to be an effective caregiver. Knowledge provides confidence and reduces the feelings of being overwhelmed.

  • Acknowledge their Limits

Acknowledge the challenges of caring and reflect on how much personal involvement is possible to invest. If feeling overwhelmed ask for new duties. Set clear limits and communicate those limits to those in charge

  • Accept their Feelings

Care giving can provide a sense of fulfillment, but also produce a range of emotions such as anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness and grief. Be aware and acknowledge that at times these feelings are possible, and reflect on how to dissipate them .E.g. prayer, keeping a personal journal to write down thoughts and feelings. This helps provide a realistic perspective and serves as an important release of emotions.

  • Be informed of Burnout

Be informed of caregiver’s susceptibility to burnout and aware of the signs and symptoms.

  • Be Responsible for their Personal Care

Allow time for activities that give pleasure

Eat regular and balanced meals that strengthens the body

Exercise regularly

Sleep at least 7 hours a night

I have included a photo of child caregivers in Bangkok. They are learning effective lifting methods for children with disabilities, which is a strategy to reduce injury.

Individuals can take action to implement personal strategies, but organizations should also take a proactive and pastoral approach in caring for their staff.

The next Blog will discuss Organisational Strategies. Until then, I am interested in your ideas and thoughts on the signs of burnout. What has been your experience?  And how can individuals implement strategies to care for themselves?

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