Jonathan Clode talks to a support worker about the realities of working in care services
Some of the most challenging aspects of working in care are the ever changing conditions under which individuals are asked to work. Jonathan Clode spoke to a learning disabilities support worker with over a decade of experience, to get the view from the front seat.
Support workers and carers are often perceived to be the same thing, but what would you say are the differences?
Terminology is rife within the care sector and it is largely people’s perception. I would say a support worker is there to support someone to complete a task they are having trouble completing independently. This could be personal care, bathing, shaving etc, to banking or shopping. Also to offer a person choice and give them back control wherever possible, as this cuts down on the risk of deskilling someone. A carer will be someone who does a task for somebody not worrying what part of the task the person can do for themselves. This approach can heighten the risk of deskilling. Some people in the care industry might disagree but again we can get stuck on terminology.
What is the best part of your job, and what are some of the challenges?
I love the 1:1 support I give as I can see what a difference it makes to the person being supported. I can finish my shift knowing that I have made a real difference to their lives. Also getting to know the person, what makes them tick and laugh. I have been working with one guy now for 9 months and the change towards skill building is tremendous. The main challenge is maintaining as much 1:1 support as possible and battling cuts in the care sector, and this is a challenge for everybody. Also maintaining continuity of support and ensuring consistency. Retention of staff is an ongoing problem and the people we support have to get to know a lot of different people in their lifetime.
What are your thoughts on comics in general, and more specifically their potential to capture the working lives of carers?
I read comic books as a child like most people of my generation, but recently started to read comic books again largely due to the subjects they capture. I really enjoyed Charlie’s War and Maus. I am very visual and reading alongside seeing the story really works for me as a reader. This will capture the care sector perfectly and appeal to people who work in the sector and people who don’t. It’s very hard for people who don’t work in social care to visualise what it is actually like just by hearing stories. To actually see them and see the emotion will break down these barriers.
You’ve worked in learning disability support for 14 years. How has your job changed over that time?
The grass roots of support has not changed that much I don’t think. Support workers are still passionate about what they do and engage well with the people they are supporting. The change is above the support level and managers not having time due to increased workloads, making it hard to coach and mentor staff. I have worked at all levels during my 14 years and there has been a huge change in management workloads. I see this with new staff who have the potential to succeed but get stressed and demoralised through lack of coaching and mentoring. Some even leaving the sector completely. I can coach people at some level and pass on tips but this is limited to my level of responsibility and time I have to give. The knock on effect is less people going up a level or even wanting to go up a level. Back in my day 14 years ago, even 10 years ago, it was a given people would progress.
What do you think can be done to improve the working conditions of carers, in light of continual cuts to funding?
I would say a focus on coaching and mentoring people on the ‘shop floor.’ Shift leaders, people role modelling good support, ironing out potentially poor support before it becomes a culture. There always has been a focus on training because it’s “dare I say it” an outcome a tick box. But I am talking about mentoring people who are working and supporting individuals. Together with meaningful supervision. I don’t want to talk about money but it does factor into recruitment. As the minimum wage increases and the money in the government pot gets smaller, what is the future for the care sector? It does scare me. Who is coming into the sector taking on the responsibility for the minimum wage? It’s a big ask. And it’s getting bigger.
Is there a particular aspect of care that you’d like to see represented on ALL IS NOT WELL?
Something that has always interested me and I love working with is people with Autism. It’s a fascinating subject and the people are real characters. Because it’s such a diverse spectrum disorder it fascinates me. I would say I’ve worked with people across the full spectrum. Also what we perceive as challenging behaviour and how the support has changed immensely in the 14 years I have worked in services. Changing for the better with less people being excluded because of their behaviour and less restraint being used. Human behaviour fascinates me in all aspects of life. Mental health also is something that is not properly catered for in our society. Also the real one off characters who work in the sector and are those that are supported. I can think of so many people who would could tell great, real stories. The kind that make us all want to stay working in the care sector. It’s not all doom and gloom, honest!
Thank you to our support worker for giving his time, honesty and consideration to the project.
If you’re interested in the services available to people with learning disabilities you might find some of these links useful.