In this article we look at “What is the role of support workers?”. Sam Sly is a registered social worker with 25 years of extensive experience working in regulation, health and social care as a field worker, commissioner and provider and she gives us an overview of her experience as a support worker.
I started my career many moons ago as a ‘care assistant’ for people with learning disabilities and in those days that is what we were. Assisting people with their care; washing, dressing, medication and eating. Going out, being part of the community and being a citizen came second. People were very much still segregated, congregated and isolated in their communities. This is not the role of paid supporters now, and the changes are both exciting and challenging.
Paid carers, support workers, personal assistants; there are many titles but for people who are not able to support themselves or who are not supported by family or loved ones these teams are an essential conduit to living a good life but the role should be one of helping people find their own freely given, loving relationships that will stay with them for the long term and replace paid roles.
I think sometimes we don’t like to admit we are paid to do this role; maybe because we are a ‘caring’ profession, or because being paid to ‘care’ is uncomfortable? But the truth is that being paid makes this a different relationship and one that should never take the place of natural freely given relationships. It’s a job and that cannot be ignored. This is not to say people who work in this profession are not amazing – they are and I have been privileged to manage workers who routinely go over and above their duties.
I wonder sometimes whether in our quest to make things good for the people we support we are not always honest enough with ourselves and them about paid relationships (I know I have glossed over the negatives; I think because I feel guilt and even sadness that in our society we still rely heavily on paid relationships). Reality is that paid workers can leave because they can’t handle all the challenges of the job or they want to progress their careers, they can be sick, they can have families and they do have their own lives,. All these things can and do have significant negative impacts on the people we support.
Truly involving people and families in recruiting and retaining their teams is in my opinion the only thing to do; no ‘ifs’ no ‘buts’ however by doing this the realities of paid teams can be stark and painful for people. Can you imagine having to advertise and sell yourself (especially when you have times others have labelled as challenging) to then be rejected when applicants then decline the job? Or after years of being in Hospital learning not to make relationships with staff because it hurts so much when they leave you recruit your own team and form relationships and they leave too? No wonder people can find recruitment traumatic.
However, even with personalized recruitment we should always be aware what we have been recruited to do, and that is to do our-selves out of a job! Through making people more independent as well as helping develop relationships based on the person’s skills, gifts and talents that will be long lasting and rewarding.