Being a support worker can be seen as a reasonably simple job. Often when we see support workers in the community, they are doing day-to-day tasks and activities which can seem like straightforward work.
This is far from the case.
We know that support workers use many skills in their job. When your primary role is to look after a vulnerable person, there is never a ‘simple’ or ‘straightforward’ day.
In this blog, we’ll be breaking down just how skilled and vital the role of a support worker is. Sharing the different settings and responsibilities they can take on and analysing what skills and personal qualities are needed to be a good support worker.
What does a support worker do?
A support worker’s job is to help vulnerable people live independent lives. They also support people to reach their potential, which will be different for each person. This is not a tick-box job and can involve a variety of work depending on the individual they are supporting.
Support work can be extremely rewarding as it allows the support worker to see how they make a real difference in someone’s life by supporting them emotionally and physically.
A support worker’s day-to-day role can include:
- Physical support such as helping with personal care and household tasks like washing, dressing, and cooking.
- Medical care support includes monitoring ongoing conditions and supporting taking routine medications.
- Life skills support includes helping people pay bills, do their shopping, using public transport, etc.
- Supporting and creating leisure and social activities. Either assisting an individual in activities, they enjoy such as exercise classes, art, gardening, etc., or organising days that promote well-being and offer social opportunities.
- Health and well-being support includes the above and promotes healthy, positive choices like eating the right foods, exercising regularly, and keeping up with personal hygiene. This can also include supporting individuals and their families emotionally.
- Safeguarding. Ensuring vulnerable adults have their rights respected and not being put in dangerous or harmful situations.
- Administration. Though the role is very practical, some admin is needed to ensure records are kept when dispensing medication and that health and safety and legislative and care standards are maintained.
Every aspect of the role is variable from day to day and from person to person. It is a person-centred role and so is as complex and varied as every person that needs support.
Where do they work and who with?
Support workers can work in different settings, including:
- Day centres
- Residential/supported living
- Mental health settings
Each of these settings can have a range of individuals who need support. This can include adults with learning disabilities, adults with mental health issues, or physical disabilities.
Community support workers will work with individuals living at home, while those working in day centres, mental health settings, and residential/supported living facilities will work with individuals while accessing that service.
Working with families is different from working with individuals in other settings. A family support worker will work with the whole family over the short or long term. They will help families with emotional and practical support with whatever issues they are facing.
Family issues that need a support worker could include domestic abuse, terminal illness, drug alcohol addiction, bereavement, financial problems, and more.
What are the top skills needed to be a support worker?
As we have discovered, the role of a support worker is all person-centred. The critical skill needed to be a good support worker is to enjoy working with people, and most importantly, enjoy putting other people’s needs first to help them succeed.
Support workers have an extraordinary chance to make a real difference in people’s lives every day, but it can be difficult. Emotionally and physically, support work can take its toll as you deal with vulnerable people’s personal circumstances, family lives, and relationships.
When working in any setting, support work can be physically demanding if it involves personal care. This can also be heightened when working with adults with learning disabilities or mental health issues who may be prone to physical outbursts.
Taking into account all of these elements, not anyone can be a support worker. Key soft-skills and attributes for support workers include:
- Communication skills
- Listening skills
Though support workers do not need specific qualifications, hard skills that would be beneficial are:
- Organisation and time management
- Good writing/literacy
Support workers provide a vital lifeline for many people. Without people who can use all of the above skills and adapt them to fit the needs of each individual and the situation they are in, many people would struggle to live an independent and fulfilled life.
We hope that next time you see a support worker out at the supermarket, on public transport, or at the park with an individual, maybe you will have a greater understanding of how skilled and valuable their job is.