Ensuring that Support Workers are fully informed

A lot more could be done to keep support workers around New Zealand fully up to date with all the changes and notes of importance in a rapidly changing disability sector.

The way people want their supports delivered is changing, and with that, the requirements of the modern support worker who is responsible for delivering those supports is changing as well.

Supports are more flexible, some routines aren’t as structured, but a lot of support workers training actually reflects that of the old model. It’s not as simple as telling a support worker that the person they support wants more flexibility and control. You need to explain how the funding model works, but most importantly, support workers need to know that they are doing the job properly.

A lot of people receiving support won’t speak up if they aren’t happy. But the more information and regular communication support workers have, the better they will be when working out in the field.

Two years ago, CCS Disability Action’s Waikato region were looking at starting a newsletter for support workers. I myself was involved in the discussions surrounding this project, but despite my enthusiasm, for whatever reason it just never came to fruition.

To their credit, CCS Disability Action does release a few regional newsletters per year that give a lot of information about the latest happenings in the sector. But with that said, there isn’t a publication that is aimed just at the support workers.

Sometimes support workers feel “cut off” from their own place of work; they just go on with their business as the days pass but don’t really have a connection to what is happening. In some cases, they don’t have a lot of contact with their coordinators either.

Support workers need some sort of reoccurring communication, it is important for any employee as it gives them a sense of their performances in what is a very interpersonal job. It is also a good opportunity to offer support, resource, and information, which is to the benefit of not only the support worker but the person they are supporting.

The PSA Journal is a good publication that many will be referred onto, but a lot of support workers don’t sign up to the Union and therefore don’t receive it.

It is the responsibility of the organisation to provide effective and regular communication to their support workers who are out in the field. Some organisations are good at that, and some are seriously lacking.

Friend v Support Worker: An inhuman law

With the Residential Service Strategy under review, some of the ideologies about a Support Workers role in the life of people with disabilities need to be looked at.

You’d be surprised at the number of the elderly, and people with disabilities, who have next to no family or friends present in their lives. A lot of them live in care homes, retirement villages, and in group homes.

In comes a Support Worker, wearing that particular hat, and they are paid to assist someone, or a group of people, with their personal and community needs for a set number of hours per day. These workers, in a lot of cases, are paid the minimum wage.

As I’ve stated in previous blogs, the majority of people that I’ve spoken to who have Support Workers coming in and out of their homes see them as far more than just supportive aids. Also, a lot of experienced Support Workers have said to me that, over time, it is hard not to develop friendships with the people they support.

How, when you are spending so much time with a person each week, can you not begin to develop some kind of bond with them? There is, I believe, a double-standard and power game at play, and one that leaves the “client”, or person receiving support, always on the losing side.

The boundaries conversation is a flawed one, but, you also have to be professional, so where does the actual “line in the sand” exist?

Well for some, it just doesn’t.

Others will take the professional boundary “rule” so far that it becomes a situation where the person receiving the support, the person who’s funding pays for that workers job, can often feel like they mean nothing more than a paycheque to someone that is walking in and out of their homes.

A home is a persons place on sanctuary, comfort, and for many, a very private and intimate place.

Attitudes behind Residential Services and those who hire Support Workers as part of an agency or care provider are often struck with a very tight budget. Some people argue that if the pay was better, there would be more intention on the Support Worker’s part to really care about their job.

I am not saying that every Support Worker doesn’t “really care” about their job, and I am certainly not saying that they don’t care enough about the people they support.

I am saying that there is an attitude that exists which says that people with disabilities are extremely vulnerable, and can be taken advantage of easily. Because of this, very tight restrictions are put in place at a management level.

People receiving the support are the agency, or care providers, bread and butter. They bring in a lot of funding, and the contracts to receive such funding are very heavily contested. But where do the people fit into this?

The entire conversation about boundaries, and rules of not associating with clients outside of the workplace are in place because of moments that have led to abuse.

Because of the select few, both Support Worker and the person receiving support, who have taken advantage in select situations, the whole system has now become one that focuses on prevention rather than prosperity.

You can understand why, but it’s a tough price to pay for people requiring support that simply don’t have friends or family in their lives.

For all the damage that the boundaries conversation does to the spirit and mindset of people requiring support, perhaps what is doing the most damage and causing the most vulnerability is the fact that a lot of Residential Services and Support Workers within them go un-monitored for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.

That’s right, abuse can and still does occur.

Be at physical, emotional, or a combination of both, too many poor attitudes and a lack of proper training has contributed to it. But the lack of financial ability for proper training, coupled with Service Managers taking on too many different services at a time, is without doubt the biggest factor at play.