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Just A Carer – Or A Worthy Occupation?

A Carer and an elderly lady
Caroline 29 November 2022


Reflections on the role of care workers, by Su Burns, Dementia Trainer, Coleman Training.

Too many times care workers say to me ‘I am just a carer’, I just want to scream when I hear this!

I remember very strongly the reactions I had when I became a care worker over 30 years ago.  Often, I would get the sympathetic tilt of the head and something like ‘oh you are marvellous I couldn’t do that job’ or ‘how do you do it?’ 

My reaction now would be very different to my timid smile back then. It would be more on the lines of ‘maybe you couldn’t, as to be that care worker, supporter, companion to a person living with dementia you need to wear many hats and have emotional intelligence, life skills, to be the entertainer, have empathy and compassion, communicate in whatever  means possible, the ability to be flexible, think on your feet and totally out of the box.’

It is rewarding when you find the key to being able to relieve the stress and anxiety for that lady who is searching for her mother, the gentleman who is needing to get to work to buy food for his family or even the man who is trapped in the war with only enemies around him.  When you make that time to find out why every night that lady paces the building crying, hitting out and swearing at staff is because she misses her husband and needs a hug and a cup of Horlicks.

Staff not only support the person living with dementia, but also the family members that have their own pain, and often lack knowledge and understanding. As a relative, why would we want anyone looking after our partners, parents or friends that is not able to do so? 

This sounds like a job advertisement, but this is the truth, these are just some of the skills staff need.  To be person centred, to me, that means for staff as much as for the people they care for.  In dementia care we ask staff to give so much of themselves, and through Covid they have gone above and beyond that.  They have seen residents/clients and even colleagues they have become close to die far too soon.  They have worked the extra shifts often with staffing levels low.  Some staff have even lived in care homes to protect their residents and keep their own families safe.  Home care agencies are often having to turn clients away or reduce visits to some of the most vulnerable people in society.   

It is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but the status in society is not there. They don’t need the patronizing look but need to be recognised for the work they do, what they achieve on a day-to-day basis. 

Is it a calling that you haven’t heard yet? There are people out there that haven’t found who they are.   A lady I met once on a training session told me she had gone to work in care after losing her job in the travel industry. She applied for the job thinking it would do until she found something ‘better’.   Two years later she was still working in the same home and had no need or want to change jobs.   She had more job satisfaction than she realised was possible. 

It is a challenge for care home and domiciliary managers to find staff, many have tried financial incentives, but often can’t compete with other employers. The Government have now agreed to put care jobs on the SOL (Shortage Occupation List) for 12 months, will this help or is it just ‘kicking the can down the road’

The echo of ‘clapping for carers’ seems very distant and shallow now, how do we turn it around and empower our Care Workers to show their true value and make this a real vocation with a career pathway and equipping them with strength-based training and coaching?

We would like to know what inspired you to become a social care professional, so we are inviting you to share your experience with us!