Ageing without children

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission.

Last week, at the launch of Our Voices published by Ageing Without Children and the Beth Johnson Foundation I came out when I said:

“My name is Andrea, I’m 52, and I am ageing without children because I could not have them which is a source of profound regret for me.”

Coming out

The language of “coming out” may seem odd but as the report makes clear, there is a stigma attached to being childless and people make, often misplaced, assumptions about you and your circumstances. It may also explain why the impact of the one in five adults over the age of 50 who are ageing without children has been largely ignored by policy-makers, planners and the health and social care world in general.

But we ignore at our peril. There is an implicit assumption in much of our current day thinking that ‎older people will have a devoted family around them capable of coordinating the myriad of agencies supporting their loved one to live at home; or choosing a care home; or advocating for them when things go wrong. Whenever I answer letters from people who have tirelessly worked on behalf of their parent to get the service they deserve, I always think, “What if they had no-one to do that?” I wrote last week about the importance of service providers welcoming and listening to carers and families — but what if they are not there?

Our voices

These points were powerfully brought to life by the speakers at the AWOC event, particularly for me by Ming Ho whose story is featured in the report. Ming is a writer who has worked on BBC programmes like EastEnders and Casualty. Her writing is beautiful and compelling and her blog (Dementia Just Ain’t) Sexy should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in understanding what caring for someone living with dementia is like.

Ming vividly brought to life society’s expectation that we should all, but especially women, have children by reading out a series of newspaper headlines where women were defined by their child-bearing status “Mother of two convicted/ Mum-to-be dies” — you get the idea. She then exploded the myth that all of us without children planned it — for her life’s circumstances got in the way, not least caring for her mother who has dementia. Her description of everything she has done to care and advocate for her mother highlighted just what she would be missing if she needed support herself in her older age. Often, it is just this experience that brings home the reality of what ageing without children may mean for people.

Solutions

So, what to do about it? In the buzz of conversation one person told me their nephew had said, “You’d better make sure you’re rich enough for me to bother.” I appreciated the humour but it seemed like a pretty awkward conversation to have! The report itself offers some solutions, which I hope the Department of Health, NHS England, local government and others will explore, including:

  • Investment in advocacy and intergenerational projects
  • Better access to advice to help plan for later life
  • More education and social awareness

These are solutions that could help all older people, some of whom may have children who may not be able to offer help and support because they live far away or have problems of their own.

Role for CQC

It also makes me realise how important the role of the Care Quality Commission is. Many of us will need care and support as we get older or have a disability and it is essential that we have confidence in the quality of that care, whether it is provided in our own home or in a residential setting. Knowing that someone is setting clear expectations, monitoring and inspecting those services and taking action when necessary will be a comfort for me and the 1 in 5 people over 50 who are ageing without children — and may avoid some awkward conversations with my niece and nephew too!


Originally published at www.cqc.org.uk.