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Lusk woman is crowned Dublin’s Family Carer of the Year

Lusk woman is named as netwatch’s Dublin Family Carer of the Year for Dublin region

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Dublin Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Valerie Atkinson pictured with her twin children Bronwyn and Dylan (10).

Dublin Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Valerie Atkinson pictured with her twin children Bronwyn and Dylan (10).

Dublin Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Valerie Atkinson pictured with her twin children Bronwyn and Dylan (10).

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To describe Lusk woman Valerie Atkinson as a multi-tasker would be something of an understatement.

The busy working mum of four has just been announced by Family Carers Ireland as the 2021 Netwatch Dublin Family Carer of the Year.

Valerie was nominated by her husband John, who said her compassion and commitment was “unwavering” and he is “in awe” of her every day. She cares for her son Dylan (10), who has autism and a moderate intellectual disability. Valerie also looks after their other three children, who have additional needs.

Adding to the daily challenges of family life is the fact that John is receiving dialysis treatment while awaiting a kidney transplant. He suffered renal failure six years ago.

John said his wife provides “a safe, loving and enriching environment” for Dylan and combines her caring role with training to be a primary school teacher for children with special needs.

Valerie, who also works three days a week as an IT technician, told Fingal Independent she was in shock when she learned she had won the award. She is currently in the final year of her teaching studies at St Nicholas Montessori College in Dún Laoghaire. She explained that this future career route was inspired by her son Dylan’s special educational requirements.

Valerie believes that the key to juggling busy family life with work and her studies is a good routine and structured timetables. She paid tribute to her three daughters – Megan (14), Clodagh (13) and Bronwyn (10) – for all their help and support in looking after Dylan.

“The girls are fantastic with their brother – sometimes it’s like he has four mammies in the house,” she said.

Valerie stressed the need for family carers to be kind to themselves.

“That’s something that I had to learn over the years,” she said. “I was trying to do everything for everybody and I had some mental health issues because of it. It’s so important to take time out for yourself. If the house is in chaos, it will still be in chaos when you get back.

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“Whatever gives you joy, do that for a couple of hours. For me, it’s walks on the beach and anything to do with arts and crafts.”

While many family carers struggled when schools were closed during lockdown, Valerie said she found it easier as she was able to work from home. She believes that family carers receive very little support from the Government.

“Apart from the Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Respite Grant in June, we get nothing else at the moment,” she said. “We have to pay privately for Dylan’s speech and language therapy.”

The Netwatch Family Carer of the Year Awards seek to recognise and shine a light on the remarkable contribution of Ireland’s forgotten frontline, who go that extra mile every day in caring for loved ones with additional needs.

More than 500,000 people in Ireland provide unpaid care in the home for children or adults with physical or intellectual disabilities, frail older people, those with palliative care needs or those living with chronic illnesses, mental ill-health or addiction.

The 19 million hours of unpaid work provided each week by family carers would cost the State €20bn a year to replace.

According to Family Carers Ireland, Covid-19 has been a challenging time for everyone, but especially for family carers and those they care for, with essential services and supports severely impacted.

The blanket withdrawal of homecare, respite, personal assistance hours and residential care during lockdown forced many to struggle alone.

Sean Doherty, Dublin Carer Supports Manager, said: “Now, more than ever, family carers deserve to be recognised for their enormous contribution to our society.

“Their unyielding commitment to care for their loved ones at home, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, has been nothing short of remarkable and this sacrifice often comes at a cost to their physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.

“These awards are about paying tribute to all of Ireland’s 500,000 family carers and shining a light on the immense work that they do – day in, day out – often with little or no help from the State. Their essential contribution to our national healthcare system needs to be properly acknowledged and supported.”

Colin Hayes, Netwatch Head of Business, Ireland & UK, added: “This is our third year partnering with Family Carers Ireland, and yet again we are blown away by the level of sacrifice, care and commitment shown by each and every carer. It’s an honour to be part of this and we hope that our involvement can help in even a small way to highlight this charity and support the needs of its members.”

Family Carers Ireland provides services and supports for family carers through its Carer Support Centres nationwide and National Freephone Careline on 1800 240724 or visit www.familycarers.ie for more.


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