Interview – Personal services – house work and home care are booming, but the business needs professionalization and suffers from a lack of recognition. In the past, the family of a dependent person used to take care of the person, the aged was often looked after in their family situation. Today, life styles have changed: with geographical mobility and even problems with space in homes, elderly people are left living along in their own home and accepting help from strangers, and this concerns more that 90% women: life support carers. Chantal Dumas directs the organization Dom-dom in Lyon.

We are really in a transition step providing companionship, help, and help outside the home, providing support. We are really in the transition of a community step, so a person who comes from outside, but also a person who is going to take the person with help, outside. That may simply be to go to the shops. There are many people who would not dare to go out alone, to go to the shops. Today, accompanied by a life support carer, they are going to risk going out: no more fear of falling, no more fear of being alone. So that means that the aged person or the person needing help is simply able to go out, so that they are really in the community.

It is not always obvious because in effect we become very close to the person. There must really be chemistry operating between the carer and the elderly person.

It is something which is in effect very complex. I think that often we do not take full account of the complexity of what we are doing. We decide at some stage to call the social services and say “Look, we need a carer from this time to that time at the home of Madame Dupont”, for example, but very often Madame Dupont is not completely in agreement. Her wish is to stay at home but she has not assessed accurately what it means to stay at home, what can be a constraint, that is from welcoming someone into her home. So it has become a person who is a professional today and qualified so that she will be able to win her confidence. There is a human meeting and a professional meeting.

It is a growing business, do you have trouble recruiting people. In the end are you always looking for people?

I think that it is a skilled job, funnily enough not recognized yet as a truly skilled job but it is a difficult job being a carer. Every time you knock on a door, you don’t know what is behind the door, so there may be a difficult situation. There are complex domestic situations with severe medical requirements be those Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Sclerosis, to mention just a few of those which are about today; there are people who are afraid to approach these jobs and there are people who all around them hearing “Personally, I never do that, that really you have to be…” however having no other possibility, suddenly it is not well valued, working in this job when those around provide negative feedback on this job, so today, yes it is true that we always need to recruit but personally, what I love to say is that it is a really skilled job with real skills, real qualities and you cannot just make it up as you go along, being a carer.

Do you have lots of people who are foreigners who take on this work?

Yes. I love saying that today in our team, 90% are products of immigration, but the majority of them are French women however, let’s not forget that.

Does that cause you problems sometimes with elderly people who are not necessarily in the habit of seeing coloured people, put bluntly!

Yes, of course. Right away I think there is one thing: we have signed a charter to fight against racial discrimination in the work place. The law is very clear about this, and that I think that it is absolutely necessary to be up front on this subject with people who in their time, this time in history, have not been used to being mixed into a multi-cultural society, as we have today, so it is often the fear of the unknown. And what I have been able to note in the three years that I have been the manager of this agency is that when we talk directly to the person that we bring this subject into the open very often we are able to move things along and today we have really an interesting in keeping the carers who come to us because in the coming years, it is a skilled job for which we will have more and more need and so it is absolutely necessary to really value them.

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