The Starting Point

Having worked in the human services industry for many years, I have had the opportunity to see, hear or be part of some amazing things, some exciting and some incredibly sad. My plan here is to talk about some of these things in the hope that others can learn, see the possibilities, help others break down barriers or limits placed on them by others who cannot see the trees for the forest.

One of my biggest complaints is that many support staff do not view working with people who have disabilities as a career or profession. It is do not considered a serious job role, often it is used as an in- between, a filler until something better comes along. This can result in substandard care and “she will be right attitude”. Some fail to grasp the pleasure that you can get from teaching someone something that they had never been able to do before and the joy you get from their expression when they succeed. Or the dawning understanding on someone’s face (the “ahh ha” moment) when you explain something in a way that they “get it “and that means they can go back to school because they will behave more appropriately.

There are also many career choices available in: service management, support coordinator, behaviour support, therapy assistant, NDIA, LAC’s, allied therapy services and the list goes on. I hope that one of the things that comes out of NDIA is a shift in peoples thinking and recognition that this is a professional career which can have extreme challenges, extreme rewards, and no two days are the same with challenging growth as a person, for the support worker and the people that are being supported

I have been asked what qualities make up a great support worker and I have to say I think that it is a combination of many things. So, I have put together a bit if a list:

  • Willing to learn from the people that we support, their families and professionals and then applying those things or learnings to the person and their situation.
  • Acceptance of all people with disabilities and a willingness to listen to the people that we support with dignity and respect

  • Be an outstanding communicator bother verbally but also the ability to read body language (or the ability to pick up what it is not being said e.g. I am anxious). Support staff are often the conduit between all the places that the person with a disability interacts. A great support worker uses a variety of communication systems, smooths the bumps, supports relationships, friendships and communicates with others on the team or stakeholders in an appropriate respectful collaborative & consultative way.
  • A commitment to increasing peoples independence and capacity, respecting their culture, different needs and not forcing their values on others.
  • Understand the term “dignity of risk” as it relates to people with disabilities and their right to take risks and challenge themselves so long as they are making an informed choice.
  • Have a positive attitude and be prepared to think outside the square to solve problems or challenges.
  • Understanding of the word “consistency” and the importance of sticking to those routines, procedures and practices which have been established as working for the person unless these are restrictive practices which are not covered by a Positive Behaviour Support Plan.
  • The ability to share knowledge with the person that you are supporting and skills without taking over.
  • The ability to always put the person that is being support at the centre of everything that is done, ask, consult, offer information so that the person can make an informed choice.
  • Be honest about your ability to work effectively with someone, be prepared to research to expand your understanding and when you finish working with someone remember to celebrate the contribution that you have made to improving someone’s life.

One last thought remember that often the people that you support have a limited number of people in their lives and your departure from their lives can result in the person experiencing grief and loss. If you have promised to keep in touch, please DO that. If you can’t please make sure you create a shared memory book of your time together as a lasting reminder for the person because they will never forget the impact that you have made on their lives.

I am sure that this list is not exhausted yet but as you can see being a great support worker takes more than your average people skills and a high level of integrity is required. This is the first in a series about providing direct supports which I hope will help support workers.

Talk more soon,

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