Image courtesy of King’s College PR Department Dr. Shelley Burtt opened the fourth annual joint Women and Gender Studies Conference.
Image courtesy of King’s College PR Department
Dr. Shelley Burtt opened the fourth annual joint Women and Gender Studies Conference.

Dr. Shelley Burtt began her keynote lecture for the 2015 Women and Gender Studies Conference by noting that women provide a disproportionately larger amount of caregiving within families. This tied in with her discussion of the Camphill model of caregiving, which was the main focus of her lecture.

“Caregiving is gendered,” Burtt said. “The responsibility of care in our society is unequally distributed between men and women. Women do more of the care.”

She also noted that aspects of ethnicity and economic status play a role in who gives care.

“It is also ethnically and economically stratified; outside of the home, caregiving is a low-wage, low-status job, disproportionately filled by ethnic minorities,” Burtt said.

Burtt notes that although the level of inequality between men and women has improved in many areas of our social and economic life, there is still a “persistence of gender stratification when it comes to caregiving work that we don’t find elsewhere.”

The lecture entitled “The Politics of Caregiving in America: The Challenge of Camphill’s Model of Inclusive Care” kicked off the fourth annual Women and Gender Studies Conference, sponsored by King’s College, Wilkes University and the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility.

Burtt is the executive director of the Camphill Foundation, and she was previously a professor of political philosophy at Yale University. She has also taught at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, and has written many articles on parental obligations and children’s rights.

She began her talk by highlighting her two passions, which are “intellectual inquiry and questions of social justice and moral responsibility, and advocacy for Camphill.”

Burtt passionately described what Camphill is: a community-oriented environment for individuals with disabilities that fosters team cooperation, a sense of worth, and a sense of inclusion. What makes Camphill unique is the fact that the service volunteers and the disabled individuals share in work, meals and activities together, which helps to develop a sense of community that is not found in other “modern” types of caregiving facilities.

“Camphill is a worldwide movement of intentional communities where people with and without developmental disabilities live and work together to reach their full potential,” Burtt said.

According to Burtt, Camphill represents an “intentional community model of caregiving” that “disrupts the conventional gendered, low-status organization of care. Here, men and women participate equally, and Camphill is grounded in the commitment to the equal value and dignity of all human beings, regardless of the level of their ability.”

Camphill communities exist worldwide, with some being located here in Pennsylvania, and others being located in Vermont and other states. Many of them are situated in rural locales, and these locations typically have access to a farm that the community cultivates extensively as a means to provide food for its people.

Burtt showed a short film created for Camphill that showed a disabled young man explaining his role as vegetable collector. The audience saw him collecting vegetables from the garden and hauling them back to the kitchen where they were then used to prepare a meal for the entire group. Other footage showed individuals partaking in other types of work that benefited the group as a whole.

Burtt also discussed current concerns about the way in which these communities are financed. According to information taken from the Camphill Foundation’s webpage, “each Camphill community is its own individual non-profit organization responsible for making and meeting its own operating budget, which it does through a combination of public funds, annual fundraising, endowment monies and social enterprise.”

In Jan. 2014 new funding guidelines for Medicare’s home and community-based services were released. These new guidelines have, according to Burtt, “shifted the political grounds,” and managed to exclude Camphill from receiving government funds.

These regulations dictate the requirements needed for caregiving facilities to receive government funding, which may have a major impact on Camphill’s methods of caregiving. Burtt went on to read, verbatim, one of the regulations that now exists as follows:

“A problematic residential setting is a farmstead or disability-specific farm community. These settings are often in rural areas on large parcels of land with little ability to access the broader community outside of the farm. Individuals who live at the farm typically interact primarily with people with disabilities and staff who work with these individuals. Individuals typically live in homes only with other people with disabilities and/or staff. Their neighbors are other individuals with disabilities or staff who work with those individuals. Daily activities are typically designed to take place on site.”

Of course, this aforementioned description is a relatively accurate depiction of a Camphill community. This type of restriction greatly concerns Burtt, as she feels that the Camphill model is far superior to other models of caregiving facilities. Not only is the Camphill model extremely inclusive and designed to encourage a family-style environment, Burtt also notes that it is a “cost-effective economic model.”

One of the issues that Burtt notes is that these new regulations aim to integrate disabled individuals into the “normal” workforce, thus not sequestering them from the rest of working society. Burtt feels that a community model is more healthy for many disabled people.

She argued that many of disabled people simply cannot manage and thrive in a mainstream environment. To support this idea, she told the audience about a young woman with Down syndrome whose job is to stand at the entrance of a local Sephora. She holds a small basket which contains free samples to hand to customers as they walk into the store. Although the work isn’t bad, Burtt argues that this type of work and lifestyle is a far cry from the ideal.

“That repetitive and non-engaging way of life is not representing the ideal of developing flourishing lives for individuals,” Burtt said. “That girl will then go home to a private apartment. Where are her friends? Who does she see? How does she create a social life in a suburban or urban community?”

It is clear that Burtt upholds the Camphill model as something that eradicates these issues that such monotonous work may bring about.

Overall, Burtt believes that the Camphill model of caregiving is a much better alternative to the more commonly-known caregiving facilities that exist. She feels that advocacy is needed to tackle these new regulations in order to convince those in charge to provide the Camphill facilities with government funding.