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Tuesday, 29 August 2006

What is Social Care?

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Social care work is about helping people with their lives. People who have physical or psychological problems often require practical help coping with the everyday business of living. Social care workers provide this practical support.

It doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, or your academic qualifications, somewhere in your community there's a job that you can do helping others. If you like working with people, social care work offers a worthwhile job that could turn into a rewarding career.

You'll be given training in the skills you need to do the job well and there'll be plenty of opportunities to acquire more skills and qualifications such as NVQs. Some social care workers train to become social workers, with responsibility for assessing and planning the levels of support that people need.

Many social care workers are home care assistants or work in residential care homes. But there's also a wide range of jobs working with children, families and young people, and people with disabilities. Typical job titles include care worker, support worker, key worker, and care assistant, but there are many others. Your employer could be a local authority, a small business, or a voluntary organisation. Here's a brief guide to the different areas of work.

Home Care - Home care workers and day centre assistants give the practical support and regular human contact that can matter so much to older people, or others who rely on help to live at home.

Field work with families - Outreach teams, under the direction of a social worker, visit homes where parents are struggling to cope, and where children are in danger from their own behaviour or that of others. Showing support is an important first step, and the welfare of children is your priority.

Residential Care - Residential care can become the best solution for people who are no longer able to cope in their own homes. Residential care staff work to create safe, clean and cheerful environments where people can live in comfort and are treated with dignity.

Field work with young people - Working in youth clubs, drop-in centres, residential homes and elsewhere, social care workers help young people at risk through drug and alcohol abuse, offending behaviours, and the whole business of growing up in a world which they find it hard to identify with.

Children's residential care - Sometimes children need to move into residential homes or go to foster homes and social care workers build relationships with younger children to support them as they develop. As they grow older, the scope extends to issues such as self-image, success at school, sexuality and practical skills like cooking and budgeting.

Independent living - A new role in social care is that of the personal assistant who works with one disabled person to provide whatever practical support they need. Helping disabled people to gain control of their own lives is the key to helping them to live independently.

Field work with adults - Within any community there are people who because of poor mental health, learning disabilities, or other problems find it hard to cope with everyday life. Social care workers support these people and help them to lead fuller lives in spite of the special difficulties they face.


Meet some people who are Social Care workers and find out more about their work and backgrounds.

Stephen Lawrence - Home Carer

"It's not easy to put into words what I do. I help people deal with all the little things that are hard for them at home. But the important thing is to see the individual you're helping. To listen to them, be aware of their background, identify with their own experience and outlook on life, and respond to their needs. I go to eight to ten people's homes each day. Some people I've worked with for ten years. You become like part of the family.

"As a job, I came to social care work quite late. I already had experience through helping care for my mother-in-law who lived with us when she was dying. And then I nursed my wife when she fell ill with leukaemia. Friends encouraged me to consider home care as a job and I joined a local organisation who are forward-thinking and serious about providing good quality care. It is very rewarding. You never know what's going to happen from one day to the next. The rewards come when you know you've helped people feel more cheerful and positive about themselves, whatever the challenges they face."

Until his mid-40s, Stephen ran two small businesses which he sold up to go travelling with his wife. When she fell ill they returned to the UK and after her death he became a social care worker. He holds an NVQ Level 2 in Care, but regards his own experience and respect for others as his most important qualifications for the job.

Debbie Pollard - Family Resource Worker

"I grew up in a mining family in Nottinghamshire. I saw the strike, the pit closures and the damage done within close-knit communities. I wanted to put something back. I've worked with adults and children, in residential units and in the community. I'm currently a Family Resource Worker, working with youngsters and parents to try and keep families together through crises brought on by parenting difficulties, offending, drug use, violence and deprivation. Kids have better life chances if they manage to stay within their families while they're growing up. I've seen it, time after time.

I love my job and the sense of doing something that's important and worthwhile. But I've also learned to be realistic. Now I know what I can do to help people, and the difference I can make."

Debbie studied on a preliminary course in Social Care after her GCSEs and started her first full-time job, aged 18, working with adults with learning disabilities. As her career has unfolded, she has been on a variety of courses and is now completing NVQ Level 4 in Care. Her next step is a course to qualify as a Social Worker. Debbie has one son and a passion for Arab horses.

Jill Whitfield - Care Assistant, Residential Care

"I used to work in a factory but found it mind-numbing: every day the same. A friend was working in a residential home and suggested I apply. I moved from that first job to here 6 years ago and have never regretted coming into this type of work. It can be demanding. The residents are old people with dementia and other mental illness, so you have to be alert, but there's a good atmosphere in the home. I'm the key worker with two residents, helping them through each day. There's plenty of banter, especially in the mornings. The important thing is to ensure the residents have as much dignity as possible."

Jill and Sharon both work in the same residential home. They came into social care work with no special qualifications, learning about the job vacancies through friends or family contacts. As a Care Assistant with 9 years experience, Jill has had a range of training connected with various aspects of her work. Sharon has been trained in lifting and handling and health and safety, and will have further training if she moves into a Care Assistant role. Jill has recently started computer classes with a view to widening her work horizons. Sharon's priority is balancing work and looking after her young son.

Sharon Quinn - Domestic Assistant, Residential Care

"I came to work here part-time, with hours I could fit around my 9-year old son. This is ideal. It's more rewarding than the office work I used to do. It seems more important to be here for people who need care. I was nervous at first about how I'd respond to the residents, but you learn to relate to the person not the illness. I work occasional shifts as a care assistant with supervision, and I might like to move into that job when I've got more experience."

Jill and Sharon both work in the same residential home. They came into social care work with no special qualifications, learning about the job vacancies through friends or family contacts. As a Care Assistant with 9 years experience, Jill has had a range of training connected with various aspects of her work. Sharon has been trained in lifting and handling and health and safety, and will have further training if she moves into a Care Assistant role. Jill has recently started computer classes with a view to widening her work horizons. Sharon's priority is balancing work and looking after her young son.

Naseem Shah - Outreach Worker

"I work with disabled Asian women and children and their carers, making contact to ensure they know about the services and benefits that they are entitled to. There are all sorts of differences that can create problems for people and marginalise them - gender, culture, religion, language. My role is to enable women to make informed choices about using services like health care, respite care, day centres and facilities for the disabled living at home.

There's a knock-on effect if people don't take up services. It shows up later in ill health for carers, or families not being able to cope any more. I've always wanted to work with people, and the position of Asian women in our society is a real concern for me. I think I get some of that from my Mum who worked with disabled children."

Naseem has been involved in various roles in social care and voluntary work since leaving school. These included a period working in residential care, and time spent travelling. Her understanding of languages and different dialects from Asian countries is especially important in establishing relationships with the people she is now working with. She works with a charity - the Asian Disability Network - but has frequent contact with local health and social services.

Victoria Clottey - Young Person's Advisor

"I'm responsible for young people who are leaving care, helping them set up home and do things like budgeting properly. I can think back to when I was a teenager, struggling with exams, being on benefits. I've had that experience so I can relate to what they're going through. When young people realise this, it makes them more willing to listen. You definitely bring your life experiences with you into this job.

"If we have a dilemma, we can talk about it as a team. There are 8 of us and we get input from each other on how best to deal with a situation. You can be involved with a young person for 3 years or more. You build up relationships and see the return in terms of them staying on track. Some keep in touch, but the real job satisfaction comes when you can let go, when they don't need my support any more. It was important for me to be there for that person; now they can make it on their own."

Victoria came into social care through voluntary work. She had worked in retailing before taking a degree in law and politics, and then joined a volunteer organisation helping young homeless people. She has continued to work with children and young people in various roles. Victoria has 3 sons who are now all at school.

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