Grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives

The 6 kinds of support worker

01
May
2015

What kind of support worker are you?

I had a thought provoking email this week from People First Dorset, a self advocacy organisation in the West Country who’d been talking about Stay Up Late at their meetings and used our logo for their events but quite rightly said ‘what if I don’t want to Stay Up Late?’ – or ‘what if I feel forced to Stay Up Late just because I don’t want to look un-cool?’

These are really good questions and go to the heart of what we’re trying to do, and as I always say at Stay Up Late we actually really don’t care what time you go to bed as long as you get to make that choice.

When we started the original Stay Up Late campaign we were touring the UK with Heavy Load and getting increasingly frustrated at seeing people leaving our gigs just as we got on stage (no we don’t believe it was a reaction to our ‘sound’!) and we really were overwhelmed with support from all over the UK (and beyond) where people were experiencing the same frustrations.

Our experiences weren’t at all unusual and we continued to see the 9pm walk out at various club nights and our Kiss My Disco nights and the issue continues.

This led me to thinking about the types of support workers that we see at events and how much are they promoting the rights of the people they're supporting to make those choices about their lives.

I’ve broadly categorised these people into 6 types. It’s a generalisation, and may annoy people but part of this campaign is about challenging people. So here they are anyway, and I’d ask you to think which one are you!

1) The ‘I just do what I’m told’ support worker

This kind of support worker might turn up and enter in to the spirit of things but when it comes to watching the clock they're sticklers and will 'encourage' the people they are supporting to go home when it gets to 9pm (even going to the lengths of taking people off the dance floor mid tune).

They don’t seem aware (or won’t challenge) that making people leave before they want to is wrong. They’re probably a very nice person but just don’t get it. A product of poor training and poor leadership.

2) The frustrated support worker

These are the people who got in to their work for the right reasons but find the system they work in constrains them. They know it’s not right to leave before people are ready to but they become part of that system by not challenging things. Or maybe they once knew that it was wrong to not give people choice about the way they spent their evening but the culture where they work has knocked any ideals out of them.

We know there are loads of great support workers out there working in settings where there just isn’t flexibility around shift patterns, and know that they also find this incredibly frustrating.

They’re also probably the product of a team culture where the manager isn’t providing enough leadership, or is being constrained by senior management. Work life for these people is really difficult, they know one thing and have to do another.

3) The ‘square peg in a round hole’

These are the kind of person who knows the culture they are working in isn’t right and they stick to their guns and challenge their colleagues to do the right thing at every team meeting. They’ll soon become quite unpopular and labelled as a maverick. For their own good they ought to try and find a more positive setting to work in as they probably won’t last very long and their very presence on the team may become unbearable. Of course they may be just the sort of leadership the team are looking for and be that person who can support a manager to introduce a positive culture.

4) The support worker who’d rather be elsewhere

We can also caricature another kind of support worker that can be spotted at disability club nights, and it doesn’t take a lot to find them. They are generally sitting at the side immersed in their mobile phone and watching the clock for when it’s time to go home.

These are people who perhaps need to be asking themselves why they are in the work at all, and also probably come from a team where there is again poor leadership from management. Or maybe they just don’t get any support or training from their manager and have therefore totally lost sight of what their work is about. They certainly can’t find their work a fulfilling thing.

This kind of support worker is incredibly powerful though, they deny people choices and also suck the life out of any event with their infectious lack of enthusiasm.

This kind of support worker shouldn’t be confused with the respectful and brilliant kind of worker who asks someone how they would like to be supported: would they like them to dance with them or give them some space while they dance with their mates? They instinctively know the empowering way to work in this kind of situation. They’re not too hard to spot though, they won’t be on their phone, they’ll be chatting to somebody else. They are exactly like the ‘Party Starter’ in their attitude to their work.

5) The party starter

These are the best kind of support workers, the kind that add hugely to any event. They’re there in the moment to do whatever it takes to make sure the person they are supporting is going to have a great time. They don’t look at their mobile phones, they're there in the moment dedicated to ensuring that the person they're supporting has a great time and they also take time to find out how someone wants to spend their evening.

(Thanks to Funky Llama Plymouth for the photo)

These are the support workers who are full of energy and love their work, they support people to get up dancing and are there until it’s time to go, and offer that choice to the person they’re supporting.

Typically they’re also supported by a great manager who leads by example and creates a positive culture in the team, and consequently staff are happy to go they extra mile in their work and totally get what the point of their job is.

6) The unknown support worker

I can’t write much about these as they’re never there. We know they must exist but their existence also remains something of a mystery. What do they do? How do they think? We’d love to know.

unknown-person

Without labouring the point too much it's all about support workers who are able to offer people real choices, and deliver on those choices. And that’s the point of Stay Up Late – it’s about promoting those choices but we reckon that if you don’t get to choose what time you go to bed you probably don’t get to make a lot of choices about the other ways in which you live your life.

Changing the name of the charity?

Stay Up Late may sound like a single issue thing, but it’s not about bedtime, it’s about choice and supporting people to live the life they want. However, we didn’t think ‘Choice and Personalisation the charity’ had such a good ring to it and so we are sticking with Stay Up Late! Like I said earlier though we actually don’t care what time people go to bed, as long as they choose. I’ve made that point twice now as it’s an important one to remember.

Forcing people to Stay Up Late against their will is as bad as making them go home early.

Using our logo?

Back to the original question in the email though which was about using the logo and whether that creates confusion and a sense of pressure for people.

I don’t know is the answer as it obviously can.

However, I would say on balance that there are a lot of people who don’t get to Stay Up Late but would love to and one way we’re going to move this forward is by encouraging club nights to run one of our pop-up campaigning stands to find out the reasons why people leave, and why they stay.

We’d also encourage you to use our logo as a call to action, but also engage people in conversation about the issues, like they have done at People First Dorset.

A final thought for your team meetings

  • Which kind of support worker are you?
  • And what kind of manager are you?
  • And if you don’t like how you answered these questions what are you going to do about it?

Do get in touch, and do let us know if we’re being a little unkind with our caricatures – we’d especially love to get a debate going with those staff who aren’t able to support people to Stay Up Late.

Paul

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  • Mik Goodram

    Brilliant. Matching people up to support workers for each person’s personality and interests would also go a long way, people need to be at the centre of recruiting their staff. I hate staying up late, but then I would be a cr@p support worker for somebody who did!

  • Diane Kay Humberstone

    I love this article. Having worked in residential care settings for a long time prior to my current role, I can definitely identify with all 6 descriptions of the ‘support worker’. Even in my personal life now, I am involved in an amateur dramatic group who put on an annual show. We have many people attend that require the support of staff to bring them to enjoy an evening of musical theatre and comedy. Year after year many of our audience are taken home during the interval!! Just last year I witnessed a ‘support worker’ actually getting annoyed with someone because they were part way through their ice cream and wanted to see the rest of the show!!! Needless to say, she did not see the rest of the show!! It really angers me that not all companies/agencies that support people still do not have flexible hours contracts to ensure that people being supported can take part in community activities outside of ‘working hours’. Not to mention the fact that the person being supported has paid to attend the activity and in many cases paid for the ‘support worker’ to attend and they only get to see half of it! I am so glad to say that I was a ‘Party Starter’ when I worked in residential care, I had a manager, and later WAS a manager, that encouraged out of the box thinking and I was usually the staff member that was out at the local night club dancing until 2am with the people I supported, because we all deserve to live the life we want.

  • Hilly Reynolds

    Isnt it a shame we are still talking about this, and that people who just don’t get it will use an excuse like “some people don’t want to stay up late” as a reason not to listen and reflect on the support they offer. It has always been about choice, and good, responsive respectful support. I have sometimes had to leave a party, disco, or gig earlier than I’d have liked to because the person paying me wasn’t into it, I wouldn’t dream of making them stay up late. The campaign is abd always has been about people we are paid to support being in charge, and making choices. Please keep on keeping on-
    All the best Hilly

  • Jasmine Jones

    I think these are quite negative labels speaking as a support worker. I think more pressure needs to be put on organisations to make out of hours support more of a priority. I think it’s wrong to ask people to go home early I also think it’s wrong to ask people who are living on low incomes as it is to work for free(I have done this many times) or so many hours that they are exhausted.All support workers have to make sure they have the right attitude but the companies they work for need to stop exploiting their most hard working and flexible employees

  • Sue Ludbrook

    I am a support worker and tonight myself and 4 other staff are supporting some people to attend a night club. What time will we get home? When our service users have decided they are ready to leave. If you can’t be bothered to be flexible and get no enjoyment from seeing the people you support enjoying themselves then you are in the wrong job!!!