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Care Partner” or “Caregiver”

It is quite common to see both terms within the human services community, and a question that has been frequently debated, which is the “right” term. Does it even matter? While some may say it does not, Summer House has made a move to stick with just one. Why? In a nutshell, words matter! Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. Words have power, and the words we choose to use can affect the feelings and emotions of those around us. And when you factor in that the word “caregiver” originated in the 1970s, it needed an update.

The whole word itself is just a bit off-putting when you consider the meaning. The term ‘caregiver’ implies the relationship is one-sided, and only one person is taking and receiving. Does that mean the “caregiver” does not learn or grow or gain any special kinship from being in this working relationship? If that is what this means, Summer House did NOT want it to be a part of our vocabulary.
The action of caring is actually a two-way street with both parties giving and receiving. So, let’s take a moment and review why the change was needed in our situation.

As mentioned, the word care+giver dates back to the 1970s and is defined as “a person who cares for someone “sick or disabled.” The origins of the word caregiver come from the word caretaker, which dates back to 1860. The definition of caretaker is “a person who takes care of another.” Both words imply the single flow of care from the person providing that care to the person needing care.

As the world evolved, people began to understand the people with developmental and intellectual disabilities had a right and a will to make their own choices; more appropriate terminology developed to more accurately describe the relationship of supporting others.

The word care partner is a term that denotes an agreement between the two individuals. Care partner evokes a sense of cooperation and common goals. The relationship is mutual, and therefore both people are giving and receiving. Instead of giving care, someone partners in care. When two people partner in care, they can each grow as individuals, and therefore each feels uniquely useful and helpful.

When we ask our team members what they value most about their role at Summer House, the response is, “being able to work WITH a client” They do not use the word “FOR.” We are creating true partnerships here and could not be prouder of the work we are accomplishing. We continue to find ways to grow and learn from our clients, their families, and our community. “Do with and not for” is a motto for care partnering that truly captures the essence of what works and what Summer House embraces and does.


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