Otago Polytechnic
CORP staff MaryButler 010

Caring for family members

Dr Mary Butler from Otago Polytechnic's School of Occupational Therapy on her new research for caring for family members

Dr Mary Butler

The many connections and relationships between people cannot necessarily be quantified financially. These networks are known as ‘social capital’, and are crucial for the functioning of a healthy society, according to Dr Mary Butler, a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy.

“Increasing numbers of informal carers are looking after people in the community” she says. “Often these carers find themselves caring for a loved one without any financial support.”

Mary considered this concept by co-authoring the book Family Care and Social Capital: Transitions in Informal Care. The idea originated from work done a few years ago, which eventually led to the payment of family carers by the Ministry of Health.

Mary and her co-authors were interested in how people begin caring for family members start out as novices, but over time they often develop considerable clinical expertise.

“They go into it knowing nothing and may find the professional support available to them is not adequate, so they begin to develop expertise themselves,” she explains. “They are often highly intelligent, have a lot of resources in terms of social capital and make a significant difference to the quality of life of the person being cared for.”

The book contains a series of case studies that focus on different stages of life for the person being cared for in order to illustrate the realities of family care and social capital. It examines the key issues in caring for people at each stage, and provides useful information for medical, social work and occupational therapy students, as well as policy-makers.

“In doing so, this book fills a gap in the literature in terms of care across the lifetime,” she says.


Barrett, P., Hale, B. & Butler, M. (2013) Family Care and Social Capital: Transitions in informal care. Springer, Dordrecht.