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Special Edition Guest Editor’s Welcome

This special edition of The Forum for Family & Consumer Issues arose from the desire of the planning committee to capture discourse from the 2010 Caring for the Caregivers Conference held in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference is a biannual gathering of primarily family and consumer practitioners and professionals who deal with caregiver issues that range in scope from grandparents with primary responsibility for grandchildren to faith leaders responding to families in economic crisis as a result of the great recession. The conferences have encompassed, but have not been limited to, the more traditional perception of family caregiving focused on individuals with impaired physical or mental health. There is little doubt that both professions—traditional caregiving as well as family and consumer sciences—have much to gain from the sort of interaction happening at these conferences. Each profession brings its unique perspective and culture to issues and concerns common to all of our clientele.

The caregiving profession dealing with the needs of individuals with impaired physical or mental health has its own rich literature and disciplinary history outside the scope of this special issue of The Forum. This literature can be found in such journals as The Gerontologist, Journal of Gerontology, Research in Nursing & Health, The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, Research on Aging, Journal of Mental Health, Cancer, Family Relations, Journal of Health and Social Behavior and others.

The disciplinary background of the organizers of the Caring for the Caregivers Conferences, and of many contributors to The Forum, however, is Family and Consumer Sciences. Consequently, as guest editor, I felt the need to place the very diverse subject matter dealt with in this special issue and in the Caring for the Caregiver Conferences themselves into a conceptual framework within the disciplinary history of Family and Consumer Sciences. To do so, a team of colleagues in family and consumer sciences and I reached back into history to build on a system-based theory of family resource management. The theory had been essentially abandoned in the 1990s when many scholars in the profession focused their academic pursuits on personal finance, a subfield en-vogue during the booming economy of the subsequent two decades. In my opinion, this abandonment had little to do with the lack of explanatory power of systems theory—its power to organize broad subject matter was not fully realized.

Now that the financial resources of many households are inadequate to meet their day-to-day needs, family and consumer professionals need to resurrect systems theory for its broader scope and definition of resources and demands. The first article in this issue, “Towards Holistic Care: Integrating Process and Context,” suggests a framework for organizing, using a systems approach within the conceptual history of their discipline, the diverse aspects of caregiving that Family and Consumer Sciences professionals face.

Additional articles in this special issue delve further into supportive theory and practice for different aspects of care management. One analyzes the prospects of Self Directed Learning as an approach to help care managers keep their personal demands and resources in balance. Two additional articles examine the personal cost of caregiving to the caregiver and introduce an educational framework for helping the caregiver assess the financial consequences of care and develop a strategy for financial recovery. A fifth article summarizes findings from a needs assessment survey of faith leaders regarding their responses to congregant financial crises created by the economic downturn. A final practitioner’s brief emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach and a diverse support network to managing brain injury care. This brief is the beginning of a new section, Practitioner’s Brief, for The Forum where authors will be able to express and share new ideas and insider’s views of best practices, trends, and emerging issues. There will be more about this section in the next issue.

It is my belief that this collection of articles reinforces two tenets we’ve long known but that remain pragmatically challenging. The first challenge is that there is currently no one-stop center for managing care. We solicit and commit resources from our organizations and communities, from our governments and from the health care industry. Whether we are lay or professional caregivers, and whether we provide physical care, financial assistance or emotional support, we need a framework that accommodates the myriad of diverse demands we juggle and resources from which we draw. Such a framework can help us organize the chaos of care management by prioritizing demands and accessing resources in a methodical way. The second challenge is that the tentacles of caregiving reach far into the lives of caregivers. Caregiving not only draws from reserves of personal time and physical effort, it drains financial reserves, thought capacity and emotional energy. We need to more genuinely recognize this personal toll and develop both systematic and spontaneous ways to offer effective support, relief and recovery.

Dena Wise, Ph.D.
Professor & Extension Specialist
The University of Tennessee Extension

 

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