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UMD Students' View: We take care of them, but who cares for us caregivers?

From the column: "Although no easy solution exists for burnout, research shows that in a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, a team dynamic and good support system are important."

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Workers everywhere are experiencing burnout, but caregivers of children with disabilities have one more thing to worry about: Their burnout affects more than just themselves.

The livelihoods of these kids and their families depend on workers who are able to provide the best care they can. But this is not possible with burned-out staff.

Throughout the workday, people who work alongside those with disabilities give an immense amount of care. At the end of their day, these workers don’t have much, if any, energy left for themselves. Workers in this field have some of the highest turnover rates. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, or AAIDD , the turnover rate for direct-support professionals is 43%. We think that this turnover rate shows how much of an issue burnout is in this field.

Burnout deteriorates a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. This can lead to feeling overworked, mentally exhausted, and unsupported when support is needed most. The AAIDD published a report showing an increased rate of anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and depersonalization among workers in this field. Problems like high turnover rates along with poor support for current workers, exhausting these caregivers, were only intensified by the pandemic.

These professionals give their best to the children they support. But who takes care of them?

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One local direct-support professional witnessed this burnout. Her boss was working 100-plus hours a week with three kids at home. Despite being exhausted, her boss could not quit due to her connection with the clients, the fear that her job would not be done correctly and the clients wouldn’t be properly taken care of, and her inability to go without a stable paycheck. Her story isn’t unique. This is happening all over the country.

The pandemic added many new challenges.

Not only are direct-support professionals overworked; they are underpaid. According to Indeed.com , in the state of Minnesota, the median annual salary for direct-support professional workers is $29,593; whereas the median salary in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is $73,382. This is around a $43,000 deficit in pay for one of the most demanding lines of work.

The combination of burnout-related mental health challenges along with this financial stress results in a less-than-ideal scenario for all parties involved: an inability to provide top-quality care.

Although no easy solution exists for burnout, research shows that in a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, a team dynamic and good support system are important. An article in the National Library of Medicine showed that as the level of support and outreach increases, the level of burnout decreases. One way to combat burnout is to offer and promote support programs.

Despite being some of the most important people involved in the care of people with disabilities, direct-support professionals are extremely underpaid, overworked, and riddled with work-related stress and suffering mental health.

These workers feel trapped in their situations due to the expectations and their duties. They give all they can, but it isn’t enough when they are burned out. We as citizens need to help these workers, giving them a little bit of empathy and grace so they can continue giving to others.

You can help. Reach out to local direct-support professional companies such as REM Arrowhead and RSI Hartley. Ask what they are doing to help with burnout. Elect officials who support these workers and promote their better pay. Talk to and offer verbal and physical support to these workers.

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Jadyn Weckwerth, Sylvia Bevis, Zoe Rist, Becca Green, Annie Foldenaur, and Ariana Smieja are majoring in human services at the University of Minnesota Duluth in hopes of working with people with disabilities.

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