“As an immigrant, with the rest of my family far away, I always thought that I was alone. But in drawing my CareMap I realized how close I am to the people I work with. They’re not just co-workers, they’re friends … in fact they’re ‘family’. I am not alone. It was amazing to discover this!”
Who do you care for—and who cares for you?
A diagram of relationships, connections and interactions, an Atlas CareMap illustrates the often invisible threads that bind us to others: both those who we are closest to, and those who we may have only a passing relationship with.
The Atlas CareMap shows relationships of care: any sort of relationship you have with another person where you give or receive help, support, or advice. These relationships can be with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even pets. Creating your own Atlas CareMap will help you take notice of these relationships.
Many have found that an Atlas CareMap helps them better understand their current situation, plan for potential difficulties, manage the many people involved, identify missing people and services, and communicate with everyone. In addition, visualizing the care ecosystem with the Atlas CareMap often helps people appreciate what is working well, and take note of what isn’t.
Different symbols are used to represent different types of people and organizations in your care ecosystem. There are stick figures representing family members and friends, circles for pets, and squares and triangles to represent services and professionals. You’re free to use your artistic skills to expand on these basics.
The drawing is designed to emphasize presence. People who live nearby are in the middle of the page, while those far away are on the edges. Arrows of different sorts show how frequently someone provides support, with the heavier arrows showing frequent care.
As circumstances change over time, sometimes overnight, an Atlas CareMap depicts a situation at a point in time. People often redraw their maps as things change. Many have drawn maps of the past, to better understand what had happened, and of the future, to plan for what might happen.
“Until I saw my CareMap on paper I was unaware of how large, interconnected and mutually supportive my circle is. It made me incredibly grateful. This simple tool has application for anyone individually but also for projects or work that will require collaboration with other organizations.”
“When I first drew my CareMap, my grandma was far away and I noticed that she was calling me but I never gave her any love back. I started to call my grandma weekly, and I learned about the pets she has and the neighbors she hangs out with. Now my CareMap has a thicker line between me and my grandma.”
“I’ve always been proud of all I do to care for others, professionally, in the community, and with my family, and always thought of myself as self-reliant. My voice is hoarse right now because I put so much energy into coaching a teenage boys lacrosse team. Drawing my CareMap made me realize that those boys actually do so much for me. I’d never thought of myself as a care receiver. This was so eye-opening!”
Atlas CareMap instructions, as well as Data Collection and Data Drawing templates, can be found on pages 4–9 of the Mapping Ourselves workbook.
The process of drawing your Atlas CareMap may have given you a new perspective on your situation. Here are a few questions to further your reflections:
- Who is indispensable, and what happens when they’re not available?
- Are the different people aware of each other’s involvement?
- What are the different kinds of care and skills people provide? Think broadly, including practical (medical assistance, transportation, research, etc.) as well as social (companionship, laughter, comfort, etc.).
- How are responsibilities divided amongst the different people?
- How do you communicate, coordinate, and negotiate issues with everyone?
- Have you forgotten anyone important? (spouses and siblings are often overlooked!)
- Are there relatives or friends who could be more involved?
- Are there professionals or services that are missing and needed?
- How has your CareMap changed over time? How might it look in the future?
- What is good in your current situation, what would you not want to change?
Examples and Detailed Instructions
The book “Seeing the Invisible: Strengthening your care ecosystem with Atlas CareMaps” (download here) provides several example maps, and includes one example showing step-by-step how it was drawn that you can follow as you draw your own. The book also provides advice on how to share your map with your family, and how to use the Atlas CareMap webapp.
Atlas CareMap Webapp
You can draw also draw an Atlas CareMap online at www.atlascaremap.org. Note: Based on extensive experience, we strongly suggest you first learn to draw Atlas CareMaps by hand.
The most important benefits of the webapp are: easy editing; include more details about the people involved and the types of support they provide; view the map in different ways, by choosing characteristics to emphasize; seeing changes over time; and making it easy to print and share.
Technology Requirements: A computer or tablet with an up-to-date OS and modern web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge). Some functions may not work properly with older software.
Recommendations for Teaching Atlas CareMaps
Download for a comprehensive guide on how to teach Atlas CareMaps in your community (whether neighbors, employees, patients, etc.), and to nurture conversations that unleash community wisdom.