The Next Steps

Previously we have been talking about what makes a good support worker, here are some things a Professional Support Worker should consider when they do service provision.

The Duty of Care you owe as a support worker is the obligation to take reasonable actions to prevent unreasonable risks of harm (e.g. preventing someone running across the road in front of a truck). By doing this, you ensure that you are not affecting the person with a disabilities Dignity of Risk, which is the person’s right to take and make informed decisions about engaging in situations that could be considered risky. For example, there was a man in Townsville with several disabilities, including Epilepsy, who told his key support worker that he wanted to go skydiving. His support worker advocated for him with his family & support organisation, took him to the Dr., got a medical clearance, took him to the skydiving company, they explained the risks and then took him for a sky dive. Several years later because of his seizures this man ended up in a wheelchair, but every time he met someone new he could not wait to tell them he had been skydiving.

The role of a support worker is to teach, build support and the forming or supporting of existing relationships around the person. This means that the support worker might need to organise supported outings or meet ups with others that the person has described as their friends.

Professional support workers are paid supports so they should not become part of the person’s friendship circle as this blurs the lines, creates a conflict of interest and will invariably result in hurt feelings, from one or both parties. People with disabilities often live isolated lives, are frequently lonely, seeking friendships and relationships. A great support person ensures that friendships/relationships with others are created and/or supported. As a professional support worker, you will move on to work with others, so it is important that you leave the person with the most options possible so that person you have supported life is not significantly impacted by your departure and they are able to move forward in their relationships in the community.

In situations boundaries can become blurred, see some of the following examples:

  • Drinking, smoking, taking illegal drugs or huffing while on shift.
  • Spending a significant part of your shift on your mobile devices.
  • Engaging in sexual relationships with the person or their family members.
  • Asking for favours like early finishes without planning to work owed time and regularly coming to shift late.
  • Discussing your personal problems, marital / relationships, sex life or financial situation.
  • Accepting expensive gifts from the client or family, while small gifts that are tokens of “Thank you for a job well done we appreciate your effort.” Please ensure that the gift’s value is less than $50.00 which is the rule of thumb.
  • Referring to participants as “mine or my or the kids”. People with disabilities are not owned they are people but are often referred to as if they are children or the kids when they are over the age of 18.
  • Staying long after your shift has finished to chat.
  • Worrying about the person after your shift has been completed.
  • Thinking that you are the only person who can support that person adequately.
  • Visiting outside of rostered hours, (Apart from special occasions like shared Christmas parties).
  • Giving the participant your electronic device to play with when you are on shift and then when it gets broken being offended when the family or organisation will not replace it.
  • Inviting clients to your home or introducing them to your family members or supporting the participant to talk to them on your phone.
  • Discussing with your client or their family members the organisation that you work for negatively and running them down, including having conversations with other support staff in participants’ hearing.

No organisation is perfect and in the current supports environment many organisations are struggling with finding experienced people, resulting in a lack of knowledge in the sector. Many organisations are on a steep learning curve but are trying to do their best. In my opinion the organisations who are trying to learn, providing training to their support workers, are being transparent and act honestly, these are the organisations worth supporting. It is important for organisations to get their head around what person-centered supports looks like in their organisation. Many organisations would/should welcome constructive feedback & solution-based conversations.

Inappropriate relationships with the participant’s family can lead to risks of boundaries violations for the support worker as well. This can lead to families sometimes behaving in ways that show blurred boundaries and result in hurt feelings which often occur by one or both parties. This might look like:

  • Clients or their family referring to you as a friend or as part of the family, in your hearing without you making a correction or explaining the difference to the person or the family the first time it occurs.
  • Involve supports workers in family arguments.
  • Increasing unreasonable requests to work long hours or shifts significantly beyond what they had originally agreed or an expectation for supports to work for free or at reduced pay rates.
  • Increasing unreasonable requests to work outside of or beyond the support workers’ skill or scope of practice without agreement, training, or support.
  • Favoring of some support workers above the others.
  • Higher worker stress and burnout.
  • Failure to set limits & dealing with behaviour of the participant and/or family.
  • Inability to provide professional supervision & aim to support.

Please discuss any of the things raised here with your organisation or manager and if you feel you require professional supervision, please contact the PoDDSS office .

Talk more soon,

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