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Keeping the spiritual flame burning

One of the leaders of the new national pastoral care organisation urges the group to hasten slowly, reports Megan Stoyles.

The champion of the new group Pastoral and Spiritual Care of Older People (PASCOP), John Ireland, has likened its successful establishment to the process at the beginning of life.

But he cautioned: “There is a real risk that having received such a ringing endorsement of both the need for support in pastoral care and more particularly our proposal for “creating a new future for pastoral and spiritual care for older people” that we will get carried away with enthusiasm and in the process create expectations and timelines which are unachievable.

“On the other hand, we must keep up a good momentum so as to maintain the interest and support which is so obviously evident.”

Ireland, who retired as head of Southern Cross Care NSW &ACT last year, spoke to INsite following the successful meeting in Canberra on March 5 to assess interest and establish a formal framework for the group, which will focus on the provision of pastoral and spiritual care for older people in all settings.

INsite was first to report about the launch, in our last issue (Feb/March 2012). More than 40 people attended the meeting that, by a show of hands and promises by some of financial support, endorsed the proposal to establish the organisation.

Reverend Professor John Swinton, professor in practical theology and pastoral care, at the University of Aberdeen, spoke to the PASCOP meeting about creating a new future for pastoral care in aged care.

“The meanings that we place on ageing impacts on our practice,” he said. “Through our attitudes, values and assumptions we teach people how to be residents, clients, patients, and how to suffer. When this happens people can easily get used to bad care, believing that’s just the way things are. Staff and carers can end up delivering poor care simply by teaching people the wrong things about ageing.

“By comparison pastoral care is fundamental to understanding relationality between staff and resident. It requires seeing people differently, not just seeking to meet needs, but creating new needs; asking what it means to live in that residential environment and live in the life of that individual; to ask questions to take them by surprise, in the name of genuine person-centred care.

“Pastoral care is not simply a set of techniques or competencies, rather it is the enabling of carers to see differently, to listen differently and look beyond that which is expected. Then we start to practice differently.”

Swinton said organisations must incorporate pastoral care into their business model, so it is equal in value to finance, to human resources, to service delivery. It is a cultural change; embedding spiritual and pastoral care into all aspects of aged care including clinical care.

Since the launch, Ireland said letters had gone to all participants, attending and supporting CEO’s, those organisations which were invited and didn’t attend, and the seeding group.

The task group met on March 20 and formed the steering committee. It comprises Ireland, Reverend Geoff Hunter (who has led the initiative thus far), Liz Mackinlay from CAPS, Carol Allen (who has a long history at Anglicare and more recently at Hammondcare), Susan Sullivan from Catholic Care Australia and Sara Blunt from Eldercare.

“The steering committee members have a good mix of management and leadership skills and are all currently involved in the delivery of pastoral and spiritual care to ensure that PASCOP’s work is focused, relevant and has ‘street cred’,” Ireland said.

Its immediate task is to recruit or invite 20 organisations to become sponsors from September 1. “If we don’t have this we will not be going forward, no half measures, we are a goer or we are not,” Ireland said.

Some are already signed up but Ireland, while quietly confident of reaching the target, is not assuming they’re over the line just yet. “We will be using John Swinton’s assertion the pastoral and spiritual care cannot be an optional extra and therefore support of PASCOP makes good business sense.

“The sponsors will form a committee which will govern the organisation through its first three [time limited] years – its infancy and childhood until it reaches its maturity when they will revert to being just foundation members, and the board, which will be elected by members, will assume its proper role of governance.”

Ireland is using the travel scholarship component of his 2011 HESTA-ACSA Award for Individual Excellence to travel to the UK in May to attend a symposium on spiritual dimensions of ageing: exploration of meanings in later life. It will be convened by Professor Malcolm Johnson, professor of health and social policy at the University of Bristol.

Ireland will also participate in a three-day consultation convened by the Reverend Dr Keith Albans, director of chaplaincy and spirituality for Methodist homes in England.

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