Young lady with her support worker

Support Workers assist the aged and people with disability with a variety of tasks including with their personal hygiene routines, mobility support, shopping activities, food preparation, housework tasks and social events.

Being good company and providing emotional support are also important. They must have a distinct interest in and willingness to work to support others who require it.

They must be a good match so that care and support is provided while also making the person needing support feel independent, included and encouraged to give things a go.

They can be the link between a person who is isolated through their circumstances and the outside world, whether that is the local supermarket where they do their weekly food shopping or visit the zoo for an exciting outing.

Let them communicate: don't talk for them

Speak to me: I am not invisible

Don’t assume: please ask

Get over it and wait: being patient

Being creative: things may not be the same

Keep their trust: being confidential

Safety first: injuries and accidents

Worries and stress: physical, mental and emotional 

All alone: remote or isolated work

On the move

I’m tired: there's too much to do

 

Let them communicate

If a support person is always stepping in to do an activity or to answer a question, the client may feel disempowered and excluded from the situation. Letting them communicate and interact, even if it takes a longer period, is what a support worker needs to do.

Paying for her own coffee

Speak to me

Within a conversation or an interaction at a shop, direct the other person or shop assistant to communicate directly with the client being supported so they feel included.

Don’t assume

Until they have worked together for a period, a support worker is unable to determine what their client can and cannot do. Doing something for them just to make it easier or quicker will help no one and may make the client feel belittled or inadequate. The best thing to do is to ask what the best way to support them is. This may change over time so a regular query may help. Perhaps at the start of the shift. People do change their mind.

Get over it and wait

When communication assistance is required, the lengths of silence may be obvious and awkward as the client considers their responses. If they are using a device let them operate it and resist the urge to take over.

Being creative

The main aim of a support worker is to support their client and to enable them to achieve their goals. A creative approach may be needed depending upon the situation plus a positive give it a go outlook. Encouraging independence by letting a client order and pay for their own lunch may be a major step forward when normally the Support Worker has previously done it. 

Keep their trust

As with many workplaces, there may be issues and topics talked about that need to be kept confidential. Situations that may cause embarrassment or humiliation certainly shouldn’t be shared.

A woman cleaning the kitchen door

Safety first

There are many risks associated with the role of a Support Worker.

At a client’s home, there are tasks that require lifting, moving, pushing, cleaning, loading, and unloading. Work safety regulations need to be made known to the Support Worker at the commencement of their contract so that they approach the tasks in a safe and responsible way.

With outdoor activities such as gardening or watering the vegetable patch considerations with sun protection, allergies, or bites and stings will need to be kept.

Worries and stress

Everyone has worries in their life whether that is with money, children, or aging parents to name a few.

The definition of work stress includes the physical, mental and emotional reactions of workers when they think their work demands go beyond their abilities and the resources they have available, such as time,  support or reliable equipment.

For Support Workers, there may be excessive demands placed on their time to what is required within a shift. They may come away feeling like they have left work unfinished and the client dissatisfied. In this situation, they must talk with their supervisor or other senior to resolve the case.

Experiencing, seeing, or hearing about a distressing situation may be the source of stress. The safety of themselves or their client may be threatened and they may feel powerless and frightened. It is important for the Support Worker to document their feelings and concerns and make them known to their supervisor or another appropriate person. Debriefing or counselling may be the next step to ensure all parties are properly supported.

Internalising the circumstances of their client can cause a Support Worker to feel worried especially if they perceive As can becoming emotionally attached to a client who is terminally ill. They may have a sense of despair and feel a loss of control.

All alone

A Support Worker who is regularly working overnight shifts on their own or is alone for long periods with only their client may begin to feel isolated. In these situations, it is important for them to communicate with their colleagues and supervisors and maintain contact. Being supplied with reliable communication devices and alarms may help to support the Worker.

Girl helping a woman with her wheelchair 750

On the move

A major part of a Support Worker’s time with a client is driving, whether that is to and from their home, or to the shops, an appointment, or further afield on a longer activity with their client. Consider the following hazards:

  • Road and weather conditions eg unsealed roads or stormy weather
  • Running late and feeling rushed to attend an appointment if preparation time has been misjudged
  • Feeling fatigued and tired after a demanding or lengthy shift
  • Distractions while driving eg client behaviour or wildlife on the road
  • Operating a new or unfamiliar vehicle, or equipment within it eg a hoist
  • Unmaintained vehicles that may be dangerous to drive
  • Not following the road rules or speeding

 

I’m tired

The weariness from mental or physical exhaustion can contribute to a person feeling unable to perform their work tasks satisfactorily. Such circumstances may arise from either high work expectations or demands, or from situations in a Worker’s personal life. The following factors may be contributing to the feelings of fatigue:

  • Lengthy and demanding tasks
  • Lack of sleep due to long hours and perhaps commuting
  • Inadequate or poor-quality sleep 
  • Personal stress 

 Information was sourced from:

Scope Australia - What makes a good support worker 

A guide to working in people's homes (QLD Government)

NDIS Finding Support Workers