News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

The Complex Job of a Support Worker

In this week’s blog Joy Gunn speaks in support of support workers. Joy Gunn was with CCS Disability Action for three years as Southern Regional Manager and then with National Office for a year as Manager Quality, Innovation and Development. She left CCS Disability Action in May 2016 and lives and now works in Dunedin.

I need to preface all I say in this blog by first stating loud and clear that I have never been a paid support worker.  I have been an unpaid mother / advocate of a disabled child, and daughter to a disabled woman, an employer of support staff in my home and a manager of support staff within an organisation.

But I have never had to work with a range of disabled people all with differing needs, strengths, life goals and personalities.

So, I want to take the opportunity to applaud the many support workers I know.  Too often I see blogs and hear criticisms of this group of staff as if they are all the same.  Comments are made about support workers not understanding people, making judgements and not caring.

Sometimes I feel people expect support staff to be saints, and not real human beings.  Alas, I don’t know any saints – but I’ve learned a lot from the support staff working around me.

Each support worker I have met is as different as the people that they work with.  Support workers come in all shapes and sizes, from many cultures and family backgrounds which have shaped them and their individual opinions and aspirations.  Support workers have goals – some are seeking higher education and utilising work to do this, some live to make a difference in people’s lives, and some are working because they need to put a roof over their heads and feed their families.  Some people are working as a support worker for all those reasons and more.

Whatever the reason, I honestly believe most support workers want to do their best.  It is well researched that very few people come to work (any work) to do a bad job.

I’ve seen evidence of great courage, patience and endurance from support staff.  Some have been abused, but keep coming back to work because they understand the limitations of the person who abused them.  I’ve seen tireless patience, compassion and empathy.

The job of a support worker now is not easy.  Expectations are getting higher (as they should be if we are to support disabled people to live good lives).  But to meet these expectations more training is needed – better training.  It’s up to organisations like ours to ensure we are providing this from day one. And, it’s up to each and every individual within the disability sector to be a teacher – to provide respectful, constructive feedback so people are not afraid to ask questions.

Training must be seen as an investment.  Respect must be emphasised – for all people.  And compliments and positive feedback given when it’s deserved.

As I move out of my paid job in the disability sector to another sector, I wish to thank the many support workers I have known; those who laughed with my son, and took him on “adventures”, worried as much as I did when he was unwell – and took the chance to learn from him, and teach me too.  A big thumbs up to those who keep working in this sector because you want someone to get a better deal.  It’s not an easy job – but so many of you are doing it well.

Leave a Reply