The survey and interviews with carers resulted in the following key findings about forensic carers’ experience of support:
- Just short of half of survey respondents rated the quality of support received from forensic mental health services as either good or very good. However, nearly a fifth felt this was poor or very poor.
- A third of survey respondents had found it either easy or very easy to access support when they needed it, in comparison with around a third who had found this difficult or very difficult.
- Only just over a half of survey respondents had received any form of advice, information or support when their relative was first admitted to forensic mental health services. There was evidence to suggest this could, in part at least, be attributed to historical rather than current experience.
- 70% of survey respondents were aware of a carer group, though fewer attended one.
- Carer support groups played an important role in supporting carers, although geographically-based groups felt less relevant to some carers supporting relatives in high or medium secure elsewhere in Scotland.
- Over half of survey respondents did not know about independent advocacy support for carers, and of those who did, the majority said they had never been offered it. Only around one in ten said they had used an independent advocate.
- Carers valued interactions with staff with good interpersonal skills, empathy and insightfulness and who made time to talk with them. The importance of face-to-face contact was emphasised; few forensic carers valued written information above the chance to talk, listen and question.
- Slightly fewer than two fifths of survey respondents had received information indicating their rights, such as to a carers’ assessment. Even amongst these, some felt this information had been ‘too little, too late’. Three fifths of respondents rated the information as either good or very good, but a fifth said it was either poor or very poor.
- Forensic carers wanted to be listened to and respected more by services, and to get information they needed. Where individual professionals were seen to communicate actively and positively with carers, this was hugely valued.
- Almost half of survey respondents had experienced challenges in travelling to and from forensic mental health services and 44% had been challenged by the lack of flexibility around visits.
- Forensic carers in this study reported feeling frustrated and blocked in their attempts to access information, from hospitals in particular, but also failing to get replies from agencies such as the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. Issues surrounding confidentiality were also a barrier.
- The factors that can impact on the frequency and quality of visits include distance to and from forensic units and ease of travel; the environment and having a comfortable space for visiting and with some flexibility for visits; and the level of privacy afforded for what can sometimes be quite fraught interactions.
- Carers felt that many of the places where visits took place were overly restrictive and unsatisfactory, even taking into account the need for certain levels of security.
- A key source of stress around visiting was not being consulted or kept informed about their relative. Having staff that were able to support the caring relationship made all the difference.