Ireland's Carer Crisis: 'To work is an economic necessity but it's also vital for a carer's self-esteem'
Maria Dollard cares for her daughter who has autism, while juggling work as a part-time lecturer and businesswoman.
The mother is a prime example of how a work-life balance is possible for some carers blessed with support at home and forward-thinking employers and clients.
Ms Dollard (53), from Kilkenny city, says she can make the most of the world of work outside the family home.
That is thanks to her employers, clients and her teacher husband Niall (54), as well as three sons Killian (13), Jim (21) and Briain (28) who all share in caring for Lucy (25).
"It makes life a bit easier, as there's nearly always someone round if I want to go somewhere," Ms Dollard said.
"If I were on my own, it would be much harder but this works for us."
A part-time lecturer at UCC, teaching a diploma in autism studies, Ms Dollard also works with young adults on the spectrum and privately trains special needs assistants and adult service workers.
"My whole family is a unit. Lucy was an athlete in the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi in March and I was so proud of her. My husband and I adapted our work lives to be in a position to care. I have only been able to go full-time in the past two years.
"For anyone with a special needs child, working outside the home is very hard and employers and the State need to do all that can be done to help. To work is an economic necessity for families and it's good for carers' mental health too, as work is important for self-esteem."
Throughout this week the Irish Independent has highlighted the plight of carers. Economist Jim Power said the care bill will double to €4bn within three decades, if the Government doesn't take action.
We shared a powerful video of 14-year-old carer Shauna Tighe, from Tallaght, who helps care for brother Daniel (11), who has Sotos syndrome, as she asked for the education system to be more understanding of young carers' needs.
And we shed light on Professor Brendan Kelly's assertion that being a carer in Ireland is the number one indicator for poor mental and physical health.
Currently one in nine carers work outside the home and as the ageing population increases, calls are being made to ensure companies are offering more of a work-life balance.
Irish Life is one firm looking to help the carers among its 3,000 strong workforce.
"The future of work is an issue all companies should be focused on.
"We need to be more agile, to be fit for the changes in society, due to an ageing population," said Gavin Hennessy, diversity and inclusion manager.
The company is working in collaboration with Family Carers Ireland (FCI) on a programme to support staff who are also carers.
Maurice Sweeney (48), from Enniscrone, Co Sligo, cared for his mother, Lena (83), who had COPD, while working part-time remotely for the Hayes Culleton Group.
Mr Sweeney's mother passed away in October 2017 but the company helped him rebuild his professional life.
"As a carer it helped me to have work, it meant I had money coming in, I was able to do things for myself and I could still be there for my mother," Mr Sweeney said.
"I was lucky, I didn't feel there was any employer that would have just taken me on if I'd said I was a carer.
"My employer is a family orientated business, they understood."