Why are relatives of care home residents reluctant to ‘rock the boat’? Is there a culture of acceptance?

Welsh L, Palmer S, Towers A, Smith N

Working with Older People 21, 2: 124—132

Abstract

Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to explore whether relatives of care home residents are best placed to act as “champions” or advocates for their family members, as is often the expectation.

Design/methodology/approach
Focus groups and interviews were conducted with 25 relatives of residents in four care homes for older people in the South East of England. Two rounds of focus groups were held in each participating care home: the first was to discuss any issues arising from the care received, or concerns about the home itself; the second was to enable a deeper exploration of the key themes that arose from the first round and explore why relatives, in this case, failed to complain.

Findings
Thematic analysis revealed a complex range of emotions experienced by relatives that contributed to a conflict between what they believed to be the correct response and how they behaved in reality, which led to a culture of acceptance. Analysis revealed some relatives were reluctant to “interfere” for fear of possible negative repercussions, thus they downplayed issues in an attempt not to “rock the boat”.

Originality/value
This paper discusses the flaws in the policy emphasis on personalisation and the reliance on family members as advocates, and concludes with suggestions on how care homes may foster an environment where relatives, and indeed residents, feel comfortable to raise issues and concerns.