Background Although there is ample evidence of the risk to carers from the burden of caring, there is also evidence that a caring network can relieve the burden on the principal carer, strengthen community relationships, and increase ‘Death Literacy’ in the community.
There is often an assumption that, in caring networks, family and service providers are central and friends and community are marginal. We examined whether this is the case in practice using SNA.
Aim To identify the relative positioning of family, friends, community, and service providers in caring networks.
Methods In interviews with carers (N = 23) and focus groups with caring networks (N = 13) participants were asked to list the people in the caring network and rate the strength of their relationships to them (0 no relationship to 3 strong relationship). SNA in UCInet was used to map the networks, examine density (number and strength of relationships) across time (when caring began to the present) and across relationship types (family, friends, community, and service providers) supplemented by qualitative data.
Results The analysis revealed significant increases in the density of the networks over time. The density of relationships with friends was similar to that other family. Community and service providers had significantly lower density. Qualitative analysis revealed that often service providers were not seen as part of the networks.
Conclusion To avoid carer burnout, it is important not to make assumptions about where carers obtain support but work with each carer to mobilise any support that is available.
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