The public's view of caring as a profession is often negative, but this can be changed by bringing people closer to the realities of this work at its best, argues Helen Joy

Public perceptions of caring as a profession are mixed. Those who have worked in the industry or have a relative who receives care often have a very positive view of carers. However, horror stories in newspapers, lack of public education and a general stigma attached to needing extra care in older age have helped to create a negative image.

So what can care organisations do to improve people's perceptions in order to promote caring as a career choice and remove some of the stigmas?

Second rate

Our society seems to view caring as a second-rate job that does not require qualifications or ambition. That is simply not true. Carers receive training throughout their career, leading to recognised national vocational qualifications and opportunities for specialisation and promotion as team leaders and managers.

Care home or domiciliary caring is a career choice with real opportunities for development. Yes, it is challenging, but the rewards are immense - both personally and professionally.

Unfortunately, in our society this side of the story is all too often overlooked. Negative perceptions of care make the transition for older people harder than necessary and mean young people are often put off applying for jobs with apparently few prospects. Worse, older people become concerned that they will experience substandard care and lack of dignity.

Community outreach

These ideas seem to have developed out of social ignorance of the work and responsibility involved in providing care. I believe the only way to combat this is through education and by integrating carers and people receiving care with the community.

Care providers and organisations need to recognise the importance of this, not only for recruitment purposes but more crucially to help remove any stigma attached to older people receiving care.

Inviting the local community to events at care homes, such as fundraisers and celebrations, will lead to a better understanding of the work they do and the quality of life residents enjoy as a result. Speaking in schools and colleges should also be viewed as an essential step in changing social opinion and presenting a better picture of caring as a career choice for young people who may not have considered it. If the current perception does not change, we could face serious recruitment problems.

Carers play a vital role in our society and deserve recognition and admiration. This can be achieved, I am certain, through education and integration.