Who cares for the carers?

February 28, 2022

Who cares for the carers? The people who do the best job are those walking in the same shoes.

IHC’s i-Volunteer programme has tapped into a largely silent group of people – the family carers – and found people looking for connection and friendship.

i-Volunteer is a one-to-one friendship programme that links people with intellectual disabilities and family carers with friends who they can connect with online or by phone.

i-Volunteer was launched a year ago, after the 2020 lockdown, to connect with disabled people online when face-to-face catch-ups weren’t possible. It turned out there was often a carer who could do with a friend too. And, in a nice coincidence, some of the people prepared to step up and offer that support have been other carers.

Linda Seto

In Auckland Linda Seto needed a bit of extra time to settle her 14-year-old daughter Abbey into high school. Abbey has autism and very high needs. So Linda, who had been delivering Meals on Wheels for Red Cross, freed up some hours. Then in June last year she decided she had some time to devote to volunteering with IHC.

“I felt the i-Volunteer role would allow greater flexibility to fit around my family commitments,” she says.

Linda says she jumped at the opportunity to encourage another carer. “I just really know what it’s like. I can understand – the energy, the time it takes to advocate for the child. The parents and the carers of these special children go through these different emotions because there’s a lot going on.”

She has connected online with a mother parenting her disabled boy on her own.

“Our friendship is based on a mutual respect for each other. We have some lovely chats about our everyday happenings. My daughter and her son had a lovely chat one day. I enjoy hearing about her
son’s achievements. To us as parents of special needs children it means a lot that our children are meeting milestones. It’s these little challenges that they overcome.
I just enjoy hearing about all the feelgood
moments,” she says.

“I want to give back to the community and to serve the community. Also, I have family with disabilities – my daughter [Abbey] and my brother.”

Linda’s brother Philip, 49, lives in Taupo. He has an intellectually disability. She has a younger daughter, Danielle, who is 10. “We have quite a busy life in Auckland. 

I just really enjoy being a mum, but it does have its challenges with Abbey.” She says there were a lot of upsets in 2020 with Abbey’s transition to high school, but Abbey did a lot better last year. “She is a little bit calmer and more settled.”

Finding herself in an easier space, Linda wanted to reach out to another family. “I just wanted to be part of a service that supports families to cope,” she says. “I feel like I am contributing to the wider community.”

Dalene van der Leek

Dalene van der Leek emigrated from South Africa in 2019 with her family. They came from Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) in the north near the Kruger National Park. 

Volunteering for her was a way to connect to a new country. “We were fortunate to have
arrived in New Zealand about two months before the first COVID lockdown. Being a stranger in a new country I soon realised the value of the support network I had back in South Africa, how much I missed and longed for it. I wondered how I could make a difference by getting involved.

“We have a disabled son ourselves and I felt that it would be very rewarding to support someone.”

In Auckland, Dalene joined the IHC face-to-face friendship programme, but when her husband got a permanent job in Masterton towards the end of last year, Dalene made the transition to the i-Volunteer programme, which meant she could continue to volunteer online.

She connects with a carer who also has a disabled son. “Chatting to other mothers of disabled children gives one a fresh perspective. We could brainstorm about her situation too and exchange ideas. Our virtual friendship goes beyond our having disabled children. Chats with her leave me feeling more energised and positive about my own situation.” she says.

“Our son has global developmental delay. He was diagnosed at the age of one. His development is very slow. Having a child with an impairment is challenging and can be very lonely. When you close your door at the end of the day you remain in the same situation; I think this is hard for people with normal families to fully comprehend.

“I get immense personal satisfaction from being of service and supporting those in need.”

IHC National Manager of Volunteering and Community Development, Sue Kobar, says during COVID-19 lockdowns IHC needed to rethink how it connected with the people it cared about.

“Caring for a family/whānau member or a friend can really affect a person’s ability to socialise, limiting their connections to support. Having a friend to chat to regularly can have a positive impact on a carer’s life.”

If you would like to find out more about the i-Volunteer programme or would like to sign up, visit our website, call 0800 442 311 or email volunteering@ihc.org.nz. IHC welcomes applicants aged 17 and over from anywhere in New Zealand.

Caption 1: Linda Seto, with daughter Abbey, enjoys celebrating milestones with another family.

Caption 2: Dalene van der Leek enjoys brainstorming and swapping ideas with another carer about their children.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.